L.A. Press Freedom Week Panel Focuses on Communities in Crisis

Courtesy of Sunshine Sachs
LA Press Freedom Week's 'Breaking the News: Communities in Crisis and the Onslaught of Misinformation' panel.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, in partnership with the 'Los Angeles Times,' is hosting a weeklong series called LA Press Freedom Week, consisting of talks focused on press freedom and measures needed to defend it.

On a panel called “Breaking the News: Communities in Crisis and the Onslaught of Misinformation,” hosted at a private residence in Beverly Hills, Internews reporter Karla Castillo, community media developer Jesse Hardman and vp global initiatives Allison Campbell, along with FilmAid executive director Keefe Murren, discussed the need to supply accurate and timely information for people caught in crises. 

As part of the HFPA and L.A. Times' LA Press Freedom Week, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter among others, the discussion was introduced by Internews’ president and CEO Jeanne Bourgault. “Shutting down the internet is the giant thing that you never expect to happen, it’s one of the toughest situations we face in the world,” she said. “We are training internet policy advocates all over the world to recognize international standards for the internet, and really advocate to not allow such things to happen. We also have other ways of helping people get information in. You can go very low-tech.”

Even where there is access to the internet, low-tech dissemination of information can be the way to go. The session focused on how information is provided for tens of thousands of migrants from Central America, currently living in shelters in Tijuana, awaiting entry into the United States. Internews provides a six-page newsletter called El Migrante to the shelters, three times a month, with information about finding shelter, the asylum process, bank transfers, legal questions and more.

”It’s been a very confusing year for people to keep up what they need to know — tell people something Wednesday, it might be different on Thursday,” says Hardman, who says the migrants at the border who expected the process to take weeks have been in overpopulated shelters for a year now. “It’s an audience that really needs information.”

Because of illiteracy, the Internews reporters can be reached through a WhatsApp chat, to which questions are often sent as audio files and Castillo responds in kind. “Our newspaper is also a podcast, so we are useful and cool,” Hardman says.

Another way for refugees to feel empowered is to give them the tools to tell their own stories. FilmAid trains 80 students a year from refugee camps to make films about their own community, for the community itself. “We’re not an advocacy organization. The audience is the community served,” says Murren. “When refugees [have] the ability to tell you who they are, and tell stories about who they are and show you their culture, you normalize people that have been othered.”