Journalism in exile: lessons from Latin America and East Africa

Four takeaways from our seminar with Louisa Esther Mugabo, journalist and PhD candidate.
14th June 2023

The speaker 

Louisa Esther Mugabo is a PhD candidate at University College Cork studying the phenomenon of contemporary exile journalism through interviews with journalists exiled from East Africa and Latin America.

She has previously worked with Burundian exiled journalists in Rwanda and done further research on topics including internet shutdowns, local conflict reporting, press freedom in (post-)conflict settings, and genocide denial. 

The state of exile journalism today: 

  • Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a number of journalists and newsrooms have had to flee both Russia and Ukraine in order to keep reporting safely and independently from undue influence.
  • Often exile journalism is the only way independent media under authoritarianism can survive. Recently, the Salvadorian newspaper El Faro announced that it had to move its legal and administrative operations to Costa Rica due to what they describe as a relentless campaign of government harassment. 
  • Some journalists in a number of countries have been in exile for decades, as the situation in their home country continues to deteriorate. For example, Uyghur journalists have been reporting on their community and China’s abuses since the 1990s.

Watch Louisa's talk


Four takeaways from Louisa’s talk and the discussion: 

1. Western media should shed its apprehension on hiring exiled journalists. Mugabo’s research reveals that most of the journalists that go into exile are also forced to leave the profession. While there are myriad reasons why that is the case, one of them is the refusal of Western media to hire journalists in exile due to fears they are seen as activists or failing to meet objective standards of reporting. "The professional skills out there. Those are professional journalists. This recognition is the one that is lacking. Not only the recognition of them as individuals but as professional journalists," said Mugabo. 

2. The most practical skill that exiled journalists can build is their network. Mugabo points out that exile journalism will only keep growing unless there are better press freedoms and protections for journalists around the world. However, her number one practical recommendation for journalists that are faced with a situation of exile is to keep their existing network in their home country which will not only help with future stories but also ensure the protection of the journalist. “Prioritise networks inside the country, contacts that you have verified for years, contacts that you trust, and have contacts that are independent of each other because that's eventually going to be crucial for your and your sources' safety, and the verification of your information that you obtained through your networks,” said Mugabo. 

3. Financial sustainability tips for exile media do not work the same as for Western media. As Western media is expanding its business models towards digital with options like Patreon or subscriber-based newsletters for journalists to delve into, journalists in exile do not have the same options. They cannot rely on those methods to both reach audiences in their home countries and financially sustain their journalism. Mugabo took the example of exiled journalists in Eritrea and Burundi where Internet penetration is low and radio is the main source of news consumption. “There is no journalistic business model even before they had to flee,” said Mugabo. “There’s no sustainable advertising, there's not enough money from audiences to subscribe to stuff and there's also not having any practical possibility to do so because they don't even have the internet.”

4. There is a need for a global community of exiled journalists. According to Mugabo, there is little structural understanding when it comes to exile journalism as data is lacking, a problem she is hoping to tackle with her research. However, she also points to a need for more communities, media outlets, and resources for exiled journalists, in the vein of JX Fund. That’s why she and other collaborators are launching Ex-press, an organisation and online magazine to support exiled journalists. “We want to launch a magazine for exile journalism to provide a platform where exiled journalists can continue working as professional journalists,” said Mugabo. The vision for Ex-press is to publish original content but also translate investigative work done by the journalists to a broader audience, and, in the future, be a fundraising platform for the journalists. 

The bottom line 

As forced exile for journalists becomes more and more pervasive in the global media landscape, Western newsrooms need to take into account exiled journalists as more than just sources and consider them in their hiring process, as the professional journalists they are. In the meantime, more effort can be placed into resources for exiled journalists to be able to continue reporting on their home countries from abroad.

More on journalism in exile:

Part of our Global Journalism Seminars series.

Read an automated transcript.

Join our free newsletter on the future of journalism

In every email we send you'll find original reporting, evidence-based insights, online seminars and readings curated from 100s of sources - all in 5 minutes.

  • Twice a week
  • More than 20,000 people receive it
  • Unsubscribe any time

signup block