We caught up with Elizabeth Rivera Rivas, a communications expert, dedicated human rights ambassador and Trustee at Media Defence. Elizabeth shared insights on her diverse journey, challenges in human rights communications, and the crucial role of a positive vision in fostering hope amid ongoing threats to global press freedom.
Welcome to the “Meet the Trustees” series. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Certainly! I’m Elizabeth Rivera Rivas. I was born and raised in Mexico City, and I’ve lived in four countries so far; I consider myself a third culture adult. My journey in human rights-related work spans over a decade. I began volunteering for community-based newsroom, Global Voices, during the Arab Spring, eventually becoming the Latin-American and Spain editor. Subsequently, I took on the beautiful responsibility of building the communications team for IFEX, where I served for six years, progressing from communications director to communications and advocacy director. I recently took the exciting position of Director of Marketing and Communications at Mission Telecom in New York.
What attracted you to the Trustee role?
It’s while I was in my role at IFEX that I applied for the board member position at Media Defence. Media Defence and IFEX have been long-time allies, so when I saw that Media Defence was looking for a board member with communications experience, I thought, ‘this is perfect’. I believed it would be a good way to further explore the impactful work of organisations like Media Defence, learn more about governance and meet diverse trustees from different sectors of the NGO world. It’s always good to keep your mind open and in tune with what’s going on elsewhere in the freedom of expression realm. Becoming a trustee for Media Defence also aligns with my goal of contributing my expertise to support freedom of expression NGOs.
What drives your passion for freedom of expression?
I believe freedom of expression is what distinguishes us as humans – the ability to think, express and create together. So defending freedom of expression is in many ways the foundation of defending every other human right. That’s why I feel so passionate about it. Additionally, coming from a newsroom, and with many friends who are journalists, I witnessed first-hand the dangers reporters face for just doing their work. This compelled me advocate for the defence of press freedom, journalist protection and access to reliable information.
Unequal access to information is something that unfortunately became much more tangible for a lot of people during the pandemic and during the many conflicts that we’re now seeing. It has made it very clear that having publicly available, trustworthy information is incredibly important. This is why I see the mission of Media Defence as key, and I’m super happy that I got to join your team.
Reflecting on your experience, what are the significant challenges you’ve encountered in freedom of expression or human rights communications?
Well, several challenges stand out. One is structural, which means that, unfortunately, communications in many NGOs is still seen as an afterthought while it should be an integral part of any strategy. This sometimes makes it difficult to do collaborative work across NGOs since there may not be communication strategies established, or if they are, they may be focused on promotion rather than strategic communication.
Another challenge is the narrative war. We have always had to deal with propaganda and disinformation, however now it comes in many different forms and can be spread on different platforms at rapid speed. We still must fight back against disinformation but now we must also keep up with the proliferation of ways in which new media as well as legacy media perpetuate some of these dangerous narratives. Yet, is maintaining hope in human rights communications, particularly when faced with global declines in press freedom and severe challenges for journalists and human rights defenders.
How do you think communications can foster hope or bring about change in such challenging circumstances?
I believe in approaching communications within the human rights sector with a positive and constructive mindset. Instead of solely pointing fingers or dwelling on problems, I advocate for sharing a unified and positive vision for the future. In my view, emphasising achievements and working collaboratively creates more inspiration and energy than constantly expressing anger or assigning blame.
Of course, I recognise the importance of addressing issues realistically. However, I strongly believe that a vision or guiding light is essential to mobilise efforts effectively. It’s not just about pushing back; it’s about doing so with a constructive view. Our role is not only to spotlight problems but to showcase what we can achieve together.
Despair is easy to fall into, especially when faced with dire situations. In our work, where hope is paramount, it’s essential to strike a balance between acknowledging challenges and showcasing progress.
We would like to thank Elizabeth Rivera Rivas for her time on this interview, and for her ongoing support of our work as a Trustee.
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