list of ngos studied in france

RSFReporters sans frontières [Reporters Without Borders]
Country of head officeFRANCE
Postal address of the head office47, rue Vivienne
75002 Paris
Telephone33 (0)1 44 83 84 84
Fax33 (0)1 45 23 11 51
"Branches" abroadNational branches: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Great-Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland
Date of creation of the NGO1985
Level of actionOperational agency
Religious characterNone
Percentage of private resources78% out of a € 4.1 million budget in 2009
83% out of a € 5.1 million budget in 2008
71% out of a € 4.6 million budget in 2007
85% out of a € 3.9 million budget in 2006
65% out of a € 3.5 million budget in 2005
78% out of a € 3.2 million budget in 2004
63% out of a € 3.1 million budget in 2003
62% out of a € 3.2 million budget in 2002
61% out of a € 2.3 million budget in 2001
Countries of actionSeveral



- History -

-June 1985, France: RSF is founded in Montpellier by four reporters, Rémy Loury, Jacques Molénat, Émilien Jubineau and Robert Ménard. A reporter for Radio France in the department of Hérault, the latter was inspired by the criticisms made by Rony Brauman, president of MSF, against sensational media coverage of famines, wars and natural disasters. RSF aims at informing about the destitute and sensitizing the public opinion on the reality of crisis-ridden countries beyond emergency situations.

-1987-1989, France: RSF organizes a symposium that leads to the creation of a World Media Watch Center on the 15th of October 1987. Headquartered in Montpellier, it aims to analyze censorship and the difficulties met by journalists in each country. At first, RSF and the World Media Watch Center co-exist, the former funding reports and the latter defending journalists. Both entities then merge into one organization on the 23rd of June 1989 to improve their focus on defending the freedom of the press in the world. This new mission replaces the original one, i.e. to produce an “alternative journalism” on issues neglected by the traditional press. Jean-Claude Guillebaud becomes the president of RSF, Rony Brauman the vice-president and Robert Ménard the executive director.

-1988-1989, France: after a first international seminar held in the castle of Castrie on the 12th and 13th of October 1988, RSF publishes the following year a country directory on the freedom of information, the degree of independence of the main media and the dangers of working as a reporter. During the bicentenary celebration of the French Revolution, the association also contributes to the “world liberties atlas” of MSF. From 1989 on, RSF eventually publishes for journalists a monthly newsletter which will become a press review two years later. As a matter of fact, the media are more and more involved in the work of the association. On the 25th of October 1989, RSF thus launches a sponsorship program to help incarcerated journalists throughout the world, following the pattern of the adoption of prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. The French media are supposed to contribute by keeping the public informed about the evolution of individual cases.

-From 1989 on, Spain: RSF opens its first branch abroad on the 3rd of August 1989. On the model of Amnesty International, other sections will follow in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Italy. However, these foreign branches are not really autonomous: their main task is to spread the information from the French headquarter.

-1990, France: in the context of the controversial media coverage of the Gulf War and the mass graves of Timisoara in Romania, RSF follows two different directions. On the one hand, Robert Ménard insists on the defense of journalists. On the other hand, Rony Brauman and Jean-Claude Guillebaud want to encourage the profession to think about the way it uses or abuses its freedom. They focus on France, where a symposium on journalists’ ethics is organized with the Nouvel Observateur and the State Secretariat for Humanitarian Action in Paris in April 1990.

-1991-1992, France: RSF organizes its first World Press Freedom Day and publishes a yearbook on the issue. The organization gains increasing international support, with subsidies and a human rights prize granted by the European Union. In 1992, RSF and the Fondation de France create a yearly Reporters Without Borders Prize to reward the contribution of journalists to the freedom of the press in their country.

-1993-1995, France: Jean-Claude Guillebaud resigns from the association on the 9th of February 1993. He criticizes Robert Ménard’s objective to transform RSF into an organization exclusively devoted to the defence of journalists. He would have preferred to work on the ethics of the profession, particularly in the western press. On the 24th of January 1995, Rony Brauman also leaves RSF, in protest against personal management and the media tactics of the organization. Both Rony Brauman and Jean-Claude Guillebaud wanted to see RSF become a think-tank on the role of the media.

-1994, Rwanda: RSF and its Swiss branch disagree on a radio created in Kigali with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) in order to broadcast information on public health and peace against the pro-genocide Radio des Mille Collines. RSF-Switzerland wishes to continue the experience by promoting an alternative media, an option that Robert Ménard refuses to endorse. The Swiss personnel then resign and launch a new organization, the Hirondelle Foundation, which opens an office in Arusha, Tanzania, to monitor the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

-2000, Tunisia: during the World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2000 in Paris, RSF invites Taoufik bin Brik, a journalist who just started a hunger strike to protest against ten years of harassment by the police of President Zine el-Abidine bin Ali. Presented as a symbol of the struggle against authoritarian regimes, the guest soon becomes an embarrassment because of his provocations and his accusations against the French government. Consequently, he loses his credibility in the eyes of the public and RSF repudiates him, for “his attitude is doing harm to the cause of the press freedom”.

-2002-2003, France: RSF sets up a legal structure, the Damocles Network, to support prosecuted journalists. The organization also starts to publish an annual worldwide rating of the freedom of the press. In 2003, it eventually opens a shelter in Paris to accommodate journalists in exile.

-2002, Venezuela: RSF intervenes to support the press and the opposition after a failed coup d’Etat against President Hugo Chavez. Left-wing groups consequently accuse the association of serving the interests of American imperialism.

-2003, Cuba: while the western media focus on the war in Iraq, RSF protests against the arrests of opponents to the regime of Fidel Castro in April 2003. The local correspondent of the association, Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, is himself jailed and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. In Paris, RSF occupies the Cuban Tourist Information Centre and demonstrates in front of the Cuban embassy, where it clashes with the diplomatic staff. Like in Venezuela in 2002, Robert Ménard will be sharply criticized by left-wing groups for his attacks against Fidel Castro.

-March-April 2008, China: RSF leads a campaign for the boycott of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing. In March, Robert Ménard and two activists of the association go to Olympia, in Greece, to disrupt the lighting of the Olympic flame. Behind Qi Liu, the Chinese representative at the organizing committee of the Games, they raise a banner showing the five Olympic rings as handcuffs, a design created for RSF by the agency Alice in April 2001, before Beijing was selected. The route of the flame is then marked out by this logo printed on black T-shirts that some French political and television personalities chose to wear. When it arrives in Paris on the 7th of April, Robert Ménard raises a black banner and the Tibetan flag on the top of the cathedral Notre-Dame, which he climbed the day before with the help of two Sherpas.

- Comments -

1) The mission
-Influenced by the experience of Amnesty International, RSF has changed the definition of its mission. Its original aim of producing “alternative journalism” moved to the defence of human rights and press freedom. Today, RSF looks more like a kind of lobby for journalists, if not a trade union. To defend the press, the association actually took the risk of minimizing its criticisms on the ethical drifts of the media. It is precisely on these issues that both Rony Brauman and Jean-Claude Guillebaud disagreed with Robert Ménard.

-To be specific, RSF defends the freedom of expression whatever journalists might say. Robert Ménard explains the philosophy of the association by quoting Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. Such a position earns RSF many criticisms since it can support journalists who write extremist and even revisionist articles. During the summer 2007, for instance, Robert Ménard voiced the opinion of Albert Soral, who writes for the leader of the National Front Party (Front national), Jean-Marie Le Pen. Before the court, the director of RSF also took the defence of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, an humorist who was accused of anti-Semitism during one of his shows. In his book published in 2001, however, Robert Ménard claims that he denounces both the governmental violations of press freedom, on one side, and the ethical abuses of journalists, on the other.

2) The way it works
-The way RSF works changed with its mission. When it started, the organisation used to collect funds before it would choose a cause, find a media to be published and look for a journalist to investigate the issue. With this method, RSF was criticized for acting like a “sermonizer”, so it tried to become more rational. According to Robert Ménard, RSF now analyses press articles and human rights reports on a daily basis. The collected information is then translated and cross-checked with the help of local correspondents and humanitarian organizations. Eventually, it is used by RSF to organise symposiums and publish reports.

-Meanwhile, the association became professional. In 1989, it hired its first full-time journalist to run a monthly newsletter for the media. With a budget of 8 millions of francs, it then re-organized its team and moved its headquarter from Montpellier to Paris in 1994. If RSF still works with volunteers and conscientious objectors, it now has several permanent employees for the secretariat and accounting. Researches are led by experts who generally speak several languages of the area they have in charge. On the field, local correspondents also send regular reports. Some of them were arbitrarily arrested and detained, like Ali Lmrabet in Morocco or Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso in Cuba in 2003.

-The centralizing approach of Robert Ménard has been a source of conflict and provoked some resignations in the board of directors. Robert Ménard assumes this position in his book: “I have no difficulty in admitting that I am authoritarian and that my personality does not facilitate democracy within an association.” Since 1994, the board of directors of RSF has nevertheless participated in the discussions over the primary goals of the organization, but Robert Ménard still has a predominant role in the decision-making and the running of the programs.

3) The networking
-RSF has an international dimension thanks to its correspondents, who cover 130 countries, and to its national branches and offices in 18 countries. Through this network, RSF can respond to the questions of journalists who call the organisation to gather data and to know more about press freedom before writing an article or going abroad for a reportage. Special correspondents even happen to spontaneously offer their services to inform the association about a given country. The role of the foreign branches of RSF is limited however, since their task is to send or receive information to or from the headquarter in Paris.

-RSF collaborates with NGOs that have the same objectives: in London, Amnesty International, Article 19, the Index on Censorship and the International Press Institute; in New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. This network also include professional organizations such as the FIJ (Fédération Internationale des Journalistes) in Brussels, the OIJ (Organisation Internationale des Journalistes) in Prague or the FIEJ (Fédération Internationale des Éditeurs de Journaux) in Paris. Moreover, RSF belongs to the Ifex (International freedom of expression network), which groups together some fifty associations defending press freedom. Robert Ménard favours this type of co-operation over the creation of new branches that would replace existing local organizations.

4) The public relations
-RSF has contributed to raise public awareness on press freedom as a fundamental human right. Denunciation is at the core of its mission. Consequently, RSF is not confronted with the dilemma faced by humanitarian NGOs that sometimes have to keep silent in order to be able to carry out their relief operations in the field. On the contrary, its militants do not hesitate to demonstrate in the streets, disrupt conferences and lead spectacular actions to question the media and the population. For instance in December 2003, at the ski resort of Courchevel, RSF demonstrated in front of the holiday home of the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, to ask for the release of its local correspondent Ali Lmrabet, a satirical journalist who was sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment. In the same vein, Robert Ménard climbed on the top of the cathedral Notre-Dame to disrupt the exhibition of the Olympic flame in Paris in April 2008. Generally speaking, an official of the association, Vincent Brossel, explains that RSF tries to reconcile the rigorous research work of Amnesty International with the non-violent method of action of Greenpeace.

-Thanks to an easy access to the media, the credibility of RSF is quite high among the public as well as within national and international institutions. Today, the UN backs the World Press Freedom Day, originally an initiative of RSF.

-The strategy of RSF, which created a website in 1994, requires the mediatization of “individual tragedies” likely to touch public opinion. Following a journalistic logic, the victim has more value if he/she is French or if his/her case illustrates a topic in current affairs. In this respect, Brice Fleutiaux is emblematic: a French photographer, he was kidnapped by Chechen fighters in 1999, and RSF mobilized until his liberation. The campaign proved a double success because it also helped to raise public awareness on the difficulties to inform in conflict areas. Other operations, on the other hand, have failed, like with the Tunisian Taoufik bin Brik. For instance, RSF lost control of its campaign for Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi writer it invited to France in March 1994 and against whom Muslim fundamentalists had issued a fatwa. During her visit in Paris, the media distorted the facts by blaming the Bangladeshi government without worrying about the consequences of such an accusation on the young woman upon her return to Dacca. “In such a commotion, explains Robert Ménard, the French only remember that Taslima Nasreen escaped from a dictatorship that wanted to physically eliminate her. The writer became a symbol of the fight for the freedom of expression, which was in part our fault. She was untouchable and thus no one tried to rectify the facts.”

5) The financial resources
-The annual reports distributed to the general public do not give a detailed account of the operations carried out by RSF. Since 2003, the organization publishes the financial resources of RSF-France and RSF-International in a single account. The data of AidWatch for the years 2001 and 2002 were thus combined by adding the figures of the two structures.

-In order to guarantee its financial independence, RSF favours selling by-products like photo albums. It benefits from corporate sponsorship and receives subsidies from private foundations as well. However, the organization is also funded by local authorities (the General Council of Hérault, the Regional Council of Languedoc-Roussillon), the French government and the European Union. Thanks to the latter, the budget of RSF strongly increased from 1993 on.

-The funding from organisms directly linked to the American government earned RSF some criticisms for relaying the interests of the United States through the cooperation agency USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the secret services of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The association recognized having accepted subsidies from the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), a Republican foundation created by President Ronald Reagan and “one of the many bogus institutions used by the CIA to intervene in the home affairs of foreign countries” according to Maxime Vivas. The latter also criticized RSF for receiving funds from the CFC (Center for a Free Cuba) since 2002, “one of the organizations subsidized by the NED and USAID to overthrow the Cuban government”. Last but not least, the French NGO got funds from the Open Society Institute of the American multimillionaire George Soros, accused by Maxime Vivas of intending to set up pro-Western governments everywhere in the world.

-Other controversies plagued the association. During an auction sale organized in 2004, RSF thus received funding from Omar Harfouch, a Lebanese businessman close to Colonel Mouammar Kadhafi in Libya, a country where press freedom is not respected.

6) The links with politics
-RSF is on good terms with the French authorities. For all the sensitive affairs, explains Robert Ménard, it systematically contacts the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the press attaché at the Presidency of the Republic.

-On the other hand, the actions of RSF against Cuba and Libya have disturbed the United Nations and the NGO has been excluded from some summits and workshops. Hence the association was suspended during one year from the ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) on the 20th of May 2003, and from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the 24th of July 2003. RSF was also declared persona non grata at the World Summits on the Information Society (WSIS) organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in December 2003 in Geneva and in November 2005 in Tunis. According to Jean-Guy Allard and Maxime Vivas, the association and its secretary-general Robert Ménard actually relayed the propaganda of Washington. The campaigns against Cuba coincided with the anti-Castro operations of the American government and the CIA. In the same vein, Robert Ménard was criticized for his support to the multimillionaire Gustavo Cisneros, a media mogul who backed the failed putsch of Pedro Carmona against Hugo Chavez in 2002 in Venezuela. During the war in Iraq, eventually, RSF was suspected of minimizing the killings of journalists or hostages by the troops of Washington. For Maxime Vivas, Robert Ménard did not defend properly Mohammed Al Jouni, the Syrian guide of the French journalists Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot in 2004, while he was held prisoner, questioned and tortured by the American army without the press knowing it. According to the same author, again, RSF took for granted the explanations of Washington to justify why an Italian hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, was injured and caught under American fire while being released. Last but not least, the association exonerated the military from their responsibility in the death of two war correspondents, Taras Protsyuk from Reuters and José Couso from Telecinco, during an attack led by the United States on the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad in 2004: in 2007, a judge from Madrid, Santiago Pedra, was not to be that lenient and issued an international arrest warrant against three of the American soldiers whom RSF had cleared. One should however have in mind that those accusations come from two writers, Jean-Guy Allard and Maxime Vivas, who are politically on the left. Native of Quebec, Jean-Guy Allard works at the international edition of Granma, the official newspaper in Havana. According to Vincent Brossel, in charge of the Asian desk at RSF since 2000, the association actually became a prime target for Latin-American left-wing movements when pro-Castro sympathizers saw their popular support undermined by the wave of arrests of opponents in Cuba in 2003.

7) The institutional learning
-When it comes to the number of journalists killed because of their profession, the methodology used by RSF appears to lack coherence and does not meet the scientific criteria of a database. Compared to the paper reports published from 1990 until 2002, the series since 2003, which are now available on Internet only, are less precise and do not include any more the “barometer” which used to give the names of the journalists killed in each country. Admittedly, the statistical category is quite clear. The association only takes into account deliberate murders that were officially proved and subjected to a judicial procedure whose inquiry is closed; journalists victims of a car or a plane accident are not included. But the geographical coverage of the census is much less accurate. The countries analysed in the annual directory are not necessarily the same from one year to another: the person in charge of a region is to decide and select them according to their alleged relevance. Yet the countries which are not mentioned any more are still followed by local correspondents. If the annual reports sometimes point out fewer countries, the geographical coverage of RSF has therefore not been reduced. On the contrary, it seems to get wider since the association is present in a growing number of countries. In other words, it is not possible to assert scientifically that the recorded increase of murders of journalists (87 in 2007 against 55 in 1987) corresponds to a growing violation of global press freedom. The trend also results from the spatial expansion of the statistical data of RSF. It is very possible that the number of killed journalists actually decreased if we compare the same panel of countries in 1987 and 2007. In this regard, the alarmist titles of the press should be put into perspective when they claim that the “attacks on journalists doubled in 2002”, “the attacks on journalists throughout the world increased in 2003” and “the freedom of the press deteriorates in the world and in Europe” (Le Monde of the 2nd of May 2003, the 4th of May 2004 and the 3rd of May 2006).

- Written sources -

-Annual Reports since 2001; RSF Reports on the Freedom of the Press in the World (since 1991); Bulletin Le Courrier de RSF-France.
-Allard, Jean-Guy [2004], Le dossier Robert Ménard: pourquoi Reporters sans frontières (RSF) s'acharne sur Cuba, Outremont (Québec), Lanctôt, 118p.
-Brossel, Vincent  [2004], Chine, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 198p.
-Cazes Séverine [2004], La guerre en Irak, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 218p.
-Chemin, Arianne [9 avril 2008], « Robert Ménard. Le grain de sable des JO », Le Monde, p.19
-Donnadieu, Jean-Louis [1993] « La liberté de l'information dans le monde: reporters sans frontières veille », Communication et langages, n°95, pp.17-25.
-Lionet, Christian et Bourgeat, Régis [2004], Cuba, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 221p.
-Ménard, Robert [2001], Ces journalistes que l’on veut faire taire, Paris, Albin Michel, 171p.
-Ménard, Robert [2003], Algérie, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 250p.
-Perrault, Gilles [2002], Tunisie, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 188p.
-Reporters sans frontières [2002], Israël-Palestine, le livre noir, Paris, La Découverte-RSF, coll. « Cahiers libres », 232p.
-Vivas, Maxime [2007], La face cachée de Reporters sans frontières : de la CIA aux faucons du Pentagone, Bruxelles, Aden éditions, 266p.

- Right to reply -

Aid Watch would like to thank RSF for its co-operation. The history part of this description has been reviewed after an interview with Mr Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of RSF-International and Director of RSF-France, on10th June 2003. It was then updated and discussed in May 2008 with Vincent Brossel, the head of the Asian desk of the NGO.

Translation and last update: E.P., 23-6-2003; A.L. & M.-A.M. 26-9-2008

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