Exiled journalists from around the world - many with powerful experiences of persecution and intimidation - gathered in Bristol recently at a Presswise event designed to help them find work in the UK.

The BBC, NUJ, Big Issue and journalism.co.uk all took part, offering advice on training and finding work during the three-day seminar. Guardian columnist David Aaronovitch spoke at the opening event, leading a debate on the challenges of asylum coverage in the media.

Delegates also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of publishing online, debating the differences of print journalism. The internet provides a unique, democratic platform for exiled journalists, who can continue to report and publish their work in safety from anywhere in the world.

Many of the 35 delegates - from countries including Syria, Chile, Bosnia, Uganda, Iraq and Sierra Leone - had practised professionally for many years in their home country, but had been forced to leave after threats and intimidation from authorities.

The Expo Times newspaper began in Freetown, Sierra Leone, often publishing work critical of the military government. The paper was subsequently banned in 1998 and many of the editorial staff were forced to leave the country. Abu Shaw, now UK correspondent for the publication, was imprisoned for 10 months before fleeing to London.

The paper now publishes entirely online and has a dedicated readership including several thousand in Sierra Leone. “The technical advantages of the internet have allowed us the freedom to publish our work without placing a threat on our lives,” said Mr Shaw.

DotJournalism asked if censorship, similar to recent action taken by the Chinese government to block some web sites, might jeopardise the future of The Expo Times. “The government in Sierra Leone is claiming to be democratic. It won’t stop our web site because they don’t want to appear to be doing anything undemocratic,” he said.

Affordable internet access is a fundamental problem for exiled journalists who need to publish online, many of whom arrive in the UK with few resources. Others have little or no experience of using the internet. One Ugandan reporter, who wishes to remain anonymous, has only just discovered how online journalism could provide a safe and effective platform for future work.

“I left Uganda in March 1986 only three months after the National Resistance Movement came to power. I had always written “nasty” articles about dictators, so when the new government arrived on the scene I had no intention of keeping quiet while the same people were abusing the rights of those they had pretended to defend.”

For now, the reporter needs to keep a low profile. “Unless I write under a different name, nobody can accept my stories back home. But I can assure you it might have taken a long time to hear about journalism on the internet if it was not for the RAM Project.”

RAM - the Refugees, Asylum-seekers and the Media Project - is run by UK media ethics charity Presswise which co-ordinated the weekend seminar. The RAM Project is part funded by the Home Office Refugee Integration Unit and aims to promote fair and responsible press coverage of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as creating work opportunities for exiled journalists in the UK.

The RAM Project publishes a monthly email bulletin, edited by exiled journalists, and will be shortly launching a contact directory to encourage editors to employ exiled journalists in the UK.


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