Missions can be effective tools in both national and international campaigns for freedom of expression because they offer opportunities for assessment and investigation, direct advocacy with decision-makers and public-awareness.
Take the time to plot your overall strategy and determine whether embarking on a mission will achieve the desired impact. To begin, determine whether the issue you wish to campaign around has been documented and the problem and goal defined. Then set objectives on how a mission might help you get there.
Missions can offer the opportunity for your organisation to:
- Gather hands-on information on current freedom of expression conditions that may be difficult to find in other ways
- Build relationships between local and international media, free expression activists and other civil society groups
- Unite local organisations and groups in situations where they may not otherwise come together and make this unity visible to decision-makers
- Communicate concerns and recommendations directly to local authorities
- Draw the attention of national or international media and the general public to situations of concern
A mission could include all or just some of these objectives. For example, if the specific political-cultural context of your destination is not well understood, or if information-gathering and stakeholder engagement needs to take place, it may be most useful to concentrate first on the relationship-building and investigative aspects of a mission. Then, a follow-up mission could be struck, if needed, to concentrate on direct lobbying and public awareness. Overall, a mission must be tailored to address the specific political-cultural contexts of the free expression situation it is to investigate.
Identify and involve all stakeholders
It is crucial that the possible impacts of a regional or international mission are properly assessed in advance. The national authorities and other target groups must be receptive to the regional or international advocacy you are undertaking. To ensure success, the mission should be carried out in collaboration with local stakeholders and should be based around their identified needs. Develop the campaign strategy by involving the people who are to benefit from the campaign, local free expression and media organisations, along with other regional and international partners.
Missions are usually planned and implemented through the collaboration of several organisations. International or external non-governmental organisations can often provide critical experience and resources. These organisations may also be well poised to take a more visible role in a mission, if there are security concerns for local partners or if this is considered to be more effective in achieving the desired goals. Again, this can be determined by working closely with local organisations and stakeholders throughout the planning and implementation processes.
Local ownership and involvement in missions is also important because often these campaigns require ongoing, invested, grassroots support to have a lasting impact on a freedom of expression environment.
Depending on the reasons why a mission is deemed necessary in a given location, organisers’ goals and approaches can vary greatly. Even so, some common practices are fundamental to the success of any mission.
Consider local hosts and security concerns
There also needs to a broad spectrum of organisations, media, or individuals within the local national community that are willing to host (or at a minimum to interact) with the regional or international mission. The mission should take precautions not to place those persons in unacceptable danger and to compensate them, where applicable, for travel or hosting costs.
Define roles, consider capacity and communicate regularly
Maintain a close and regular dialogue when organising a mission. It is important that the supporting regional and international organisations and national media/NGO community communicate, to ensure that common goals and practices are understood and met.
Identify the roles of all mission partners upfront so everyone is clear on who does what. Considering the capacity of each participating organisation will also allow mission members to adequately support one another and harness your strengths.
For example, local organisations may have a deep knowledge of the free-expression situation, connections to decision-makers, and be placed to take the lead on logistical aspects of the mission (organising meetings, transport, etc.). Regional or international freedom of expression organisations may have extensive experience conducting missions, and technical experience from other countries to bring to questions such as media law reform, lobbying techniques and getting international media attention. Also, these groups or associated donors are frequently able to provide valuable financial support required to run a mission.
Start organising early
A successful mission depends on several months’ planning. Locating and organising the appropriate people to travel with the delegation and getting their official clearance and visas can take a lot of time. The earlier you start the easier it will be to coordinate logistics (such as transportation, lodging, food, etc), meetings and schedules. For example, someone from the international delegation should rent a cell phone for the duration of the mission to make it easier to contact people about meetings you have scheduled or still need to schedule. Also, take into account national and religious holidays that may impact the timing of the mission.
Ensure mission participants are prepared
If high-profile guests accompany a mission, they may not be familiar with the country or the issues the press faces there. For that reason, it is a good idea for the local and international partners to put together a small information package for them a few weeks before the trip, with background on the current political climate and situation for the media, weather, money/currency exchange, etc.
Ensure that there is an exchange between local, regional and international hosts and mission members around cultural norms and practices to ensure smooth meetings and effective communication.
Make sure that international delegates are aware of local sensitivities and perceptions around international intervention. In Africa, for example, where there is a long history of colonial resistance, there is a growing tendency for repressive governments to justify their rule by accusing Western organisations of imposing “imperialist agendas” on their countries. An international delegation could be portrayed as meddling in the internal affairs of a country, which could harm the local partner organisation’s efforts by leaving it open to accusations of collaborating with “foreign agents.” In these instances, a regional delegation composed of eminent African individuals and respected organisations may be more effective.
Meet with a wide variety of stakeholders
It can be important for investigative missions to be and be seen as a neutral party; however, many countries are politically polarised and the free expression or journalism communities often reflect these divisions. As well, various groups can have different interests at stake when it comes to free expression (e.g. media owners and editors).
While challenging, it is important for missions to be inclusive and engage a broad range of actors, including journalists, editors and owners, as well as local and international press freedom advocacy groups, human rights organisations, and other NGOs around the free expression issues and questions they are facing. If these disparate groups can come together in support of press freedom and free expression, this will maximise impact and potentially offer opportunities for building new alliances.
It can be helpful if meetings with local actors and organisations are scheduled at the beginning of the mission to get various perspectives on the free expression conditions. That way, the mission can speak with cohesive authority on the issues when you meet with government officials toward the end of the trip.
Meet with government officials last
It is always best to meet with government officials toward the end of a mission. By that time, you will have more information and a better grasp of what issues need to be raised with the authorities.
Try to meet with officials at as high a level as possible. The best way to secure these meetings is to use every single connection you have - no matter how trivial it may seem.
Report back on your findings
Most organisations publish a joint report documenting the mission’s findings, which typically includes a clear analysis of the free expression situation, indicating trends where applicable. The report will draw attention to the mission’s specific recommendations as well as any offerings of support in order to achieve them. Due to time constraints, in some cases, it’s only possible to assemble a report after the mission. But if you’re trying to raise attention before you leave the country, you could issue a joint statement, declaration or press release that draws attention to the most significant results and recommendations. This could then be presented at a press conference or another public event, such as a demonstration or conference.
Publicise your findings
At the end of the mission, members may wish to hold a press conference to draw local and international media attention to the group’s findings to increase public awareness and public pressure on authorities.
Local partners are the most important resource in organising a press conference, and the event will usually receive wide coverage in the local media, which is where it will have the most impact. A delegation can use the press conference to highlight important problems it discovered or confirmed during its meetings. Most importantly, the press conference is a great public venue to call on government officials to take specific actions or to criticise their actions (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
IFEX members should also send these reports, with accompanying press releases, to media contacts locally and internationally, as well as to IFEX for circulation. See Building a Media Strategy for more ideas.
Monitor, evaluate and follow up
Keep track of press clippings and media coverage that the mission receives both locally and internationally. Immediately following the mission, as a group, come back to the initial objectives set and measure the results of your mission and document any lessons learned. While the experience is still fresh, consider the contacts, allies and foes that emerged during the mission and what could be done in subsequent campaigning efforts to address gaps and harness possibilities. Set an appropriate time to follow up as a group in the coming weeks or months. Convene a conference call or set up a reporting scheme to check back in with mission participants to assess whether the impacts of the broader campaign have been achieved. Communicating and working together to determine next steps will increase the possibilities for sustainable change; local groups and even the authorities will know that the interest in the country’s free expression situation is still high and relationships will continue to be strengthened.