Jeannine Relly

About Jeannine Relly

Jeannine E. Relly, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Journalism with a courtesy appointment with the School of Government and Public Policy. She is an affiliated faculty member with  the Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Center for Border and Global Journalism.  

Her research specializations include:  global influences on news media systems, government information policy, press-state relations, democratic institutions, freedom of expression and access to information in countries in conflict and political transition, and formal and informal institutions related to the policy issue of public corruption.

Dr. Relly serves on the Executive Committee for Online Graduate Programs in Human Rights Practice.  She was a Fulbright research scholar in India from 2016-2017.  Research with collaborators has been conducted in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Mexico, and the U.S. Before joining the UA faculty, she worked for more than a dozen years as a journalist reporting in a number of states, the Caribbean and the Mexico-U.S. borderlands.

1.      What is your professional background, especially in relation to human rights?

My professional background includes previous work as a journalist, and in more recent years, I have worked as an associate professor in the School of Journalism with a courtesy appointment with the School of Government and Public Policy. In addition to my affiliation with the Human Rights Practice program, I have affiliations with the Center for Latin American Studies, Center for Border & Global Journalism, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Center for Digital Society & Data Studies.

As a journalist, I reported for wire services, magazines, alternative weeklies, and a daily news outlet for about a dozen years in several U.S. states, the southern Mexico-U.S. borderland region, and in the Caribbean. Since then, as a researcher, I have been focused on freedom of expression and access to information issues, largely related to journalists, and more recently, social and political activists in politically or economically challenging environments. My work with research collaborators has involved hundreds of research participants in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Mexico, and the West Bank and Gaza. This work often has examined the impact of violence and other related issues on journalists’ work. More recently, my research has included studying the work of civil society organizations and social activists in challenging contexts along with the networks that they form and the resilience that they exhibit in order to carry out their important work.                                                                                                                                                                             

2.      Could you describe 2 or 3 of your current research or activist projects, especially those that deal with human rights issues? 

A recent outreach project that I led through our Center for Border and Global Journalism was with our collaborators in Tunisia, the country in North Africa that underwent a revolution in 2011 and that is in a first decade of democracy. In this work, we formed a student exchange program between University of Arizona journalism students and university and college students across Tunisia. We first interacted for months on a digital platform and through video and audio exchanges and later sent delegations to each country. I traveled to Tunisia with the director of student media at our university. Thanks to our great collaborator in Tunis and all of the students across the country, we spent nearly two weeks in trainings and coffees meetings in cities and towns in Tunisia and had vibrant discussions with dozens of students about the role of freedom of expression in democracies and the related challenges facing both of our nations.

I currently am in the writing stage of four major research projects that involve field research with collaborators in India, Iraq, Mexico and the West Bank and Gaza. All of these research projects share a facet of inquiry that studies how professional journalists, civil society organization representatives, or social or political activists negotiate environments of physical insecurity when carrying out work in the public interest.

3.      What do you think are the most important human rights issues today?  Why?

Many important human rights issues exist in the world today, for in so many countries there are basic human rights that are outside of the reach of country inhabitants. I think the work of individuals, civil society organizations, intergovernmental organizations and others related to rights to food, education, liberty, security, equitable treatment under international law, and other human rights are all critical.

My work has focused largely on citizens’ and journalists’ information rights and freedom of expression, which often is unpacked to include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of movement and assembly, and the freedom to lodge public grievances and to seek redressal. Though the issue of violence against journalists around the world is one of many important human rights issues of our times, it is an area that I have focused upon with my research, public outreach and teaching, in part because there has been an escalation of this violence, according to groups tracking it, and the number of individuals being killed is on the rise as a result of reporting on social, political, and other issues.

4.      What skills (or qualities) do you think students should have to advance human rights? 

There are many qualities and/or skills that students may inherently have or could build that serve to advance human rights. Since much of my work over the years has literally, conceptually and empirically focused upon access to information, I will note skills and qualities related to this area in the human rights field.  More specifically, one important focus for advancing human rights is the area of fact-finding work and reports on conditions or circumstances related to internationally recognized human rights.

Among the qualities and skills that are important in the area of fact-finding missions is background in human rights law and the ability to ask the critical questions that are necessary to ascertain violations of human rights. The ability to search for and acquire evidence that supports statements made about human rights abuses is critical. This work requires the ability to work with a team to deeply background the context and those involved with the case and doing the pre-visit preparations, including ensuring security and safety of delegates going on the fact-finding mission, logistical planning, and making interview preparations through establishing the important questions that should be asked and critical individuals to interview if that is possible. Once in the field, the ability to be undaunted by varying environments in order to collect, corroborate and further verify information is important as is being able to interact with individuals in various cultural, societal, political, legal, and economic contexts. Also critical to these missions is adhering to professional standards, which include protecting the identity of individuals involved, collecting artifacts that provide support for the case, and working with colleagues to investigate every avenue feasible for triangulating evidence in the case.

Other qualities that are key and useful to this work include interest in and the ability to work with others in the public interest. The ability to write, edit, record, or produce reports in various formats also is beneficial. Other professional roles include being able to present the evidence to decision-making bodies.

5.      What do you see as the most important features of the Human Rights Practice program?

The program at The University of Arizona offers incredible flexibility for students to pursue or continue with work in the human rights field or to continue on to a doctoral program. This program is extremely relevant through its continued focus on issues of our times and current crises related to human rights. The diversity in the courses offered, including those that follow practitioners in the field in real time, allows graduate students to understand conditions on the ground in locales around the world.

In addition to human rights law and other disciplinary orientations of the program, many of the courses encourage diverse forms of inquiry, offering graduate students the opportunity to participate in interviews with well-known individuals practicing human rights work around the world. Another important aspect of the program beyond the courses, the multi-disciplinary affiliated faculty and guest speakers, is the diverse body of students in the program. Graduate students in the program are from around the world with equally diverse professional and educational backgrounds.

6.      What else do you want to add?  

From a graduate student perspective, there is much to take advantage of and benefit from in the Human Rights Practice program at The University of Arizona. Faculty members teaching the courses are from disciplines across the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, course opportunities are diverse and engaging, and the capstone courses offer project-based or mentorship opportunities, which both enable students to have the opportunity to do germane applied work. The program is highly interactive and adaptable to many contexts and graduate student orientations – a fabulous foundation for graduate work.

Selected Publications

Refereed Work

Book (under contract)

  • González de Bustamante, C. & Relly, J.E. Red light, green light: To report and survive in Mexico in times of violence. The University of Texas Press.


  • Relly, J.E.,& González de Bustamante, C. (2017) Global and domestic networks advancing prospects for institutional and social change: The collective action response to violence against journalists. Journalism & Communication Monographs, 19(2), 84-152.   

Journal Articles

  • Chordiya, R., Sabharwal, M., Relly, J.E., & Berman, E. (Forthcoming). Organizational protection for whistleblowers: A cross-national study. Public Management Review.​  

  • Relly, J.E., & Pakanati, R. (2018). Freedom of information lessons from India: Collaboration, coproduction and rights-based agenda building. Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism.


  • Relly, J.E. & Hutchens, M.J. (2018). The influence of ‘dark networks’ on citizens’ confidence in democratic institutions in Mexico. The Social Science Journal.


  • Schwalbe, C.B., Relly, J.E., Cruikshank, S.A., & Schwalbe, E. (2018). Human security as a conceptual framework: The case of Palestinian journalists. Journalism Studies.


  • Relly, J.E. & Zanger, M. (2017). The enigma of news media development with multi-pronged “capture”: The Afghanistan case. Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 18(10), 1233-1255  Lead article.

•Relly, J.E. & Schwalbe, C.B. (2016). How business lobby networks shaped the U.S. Freedom of Information Act: An examination of 60 year of Congressional testimony. Government Information Quarterly, 33(3), 404-416.

González de Bustamante, C., & Relly, J.E. (2016). Professionalism under the threat of violence: Journalism, self-reflexivity, and the potential for collective professional autonomy. Journalism Studies, 17(6), 684-702.

• Relly, J.E., Zanger, M., & Fahmy, S. (2015). Democratic norms and forces of gatekeeping: A study of influences on Iraqi journalists’ attitudes toward government information access. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 92(2), 346-373.

•Relly, J.E., Zanger, M., & Fahmy, S.  (2015).  News media landscape in a fragile state: Professional ethics perceptions in a post-Ba'athist Iraq. Mass Communication and Society, 18(4), 471-497.

•Relly, J.E., Zanger, M., & Fahmy, S.  (2015). Professional role perceptions among Iraqi Kurdish journalists from a 'state within a state.' Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 16(8), 1085-1106.

González de Bustamante, C., & Relly, J.E. (2014).  Journalism in times of violence: Social media use by U.S. and Mexican journalists working in northern Mexico. Digital Journalism.

 Relly, J.E., and González de Bustamante, C. (2014). Silencing Mexico: A study of influences on journalists in the northern states. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 19(1), 108-131.

 Relly, J.E, & Schwalbe, C. B. (2013). Watchdog journalism: India's three largest English-language newspapers and the Right to Information Act. Asian Journal of Communication23(3), 284-301.

 Relly, J.E. (2012). News media constraints and freedom of information legislation in developing countries. International Communication Research Journal,  47(1-2), 2-25.

• Relly, J.E. (2012). Freedom of information laws and global diffusion: Testing Rogers's model. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly,  89(3), 431-457.

• Relly, J.E. (2012). Examining a model of vertical accountability: A cross-national study of the influence of information access on the control of corruption. Government Information Quarterly,  29(3), 335-345.

• Relly, J.E. (2011). Institutions of information access and constraint: The cases of China and India. In Y.C. Chen & P.Y. Chu (eds.), E-Governance and Cross-boundary collaboration: Innovations and advancing tools (pp. 247-269). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

• Relly, J.E. (2011). Corruption, secrecy and access-to-information legislation in Africa: A cross-national study of political institutions. In S.L.Maret (ed.), Research in Social Problems and Public Policy (pp. 325-352). Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing.

• Relly, J.E., & Cuillier, D. (2010). A comparison of political, cultural, and economic indicators of access to information in Arab and non-Arab states. Government Information Quarterly, 27(4), 360-370.

• Relly J.E. (2010). A study of E-government and political indicators in developing nations with and without access-to-information laws. In C.G Reddick (ed.), Comparative E-Government: An Examination of E-Government Across Countries (pp. 525-542). New York: Springer.

• Fahmy, S., Relly, J.E., & Wanta, W. (2010). President's power to frame stem cell views limited. Newspaper Research Journal, 31(3), 62-74.

• Relly, J.E., & Sabharwal, M. (2009). Perceptions of transparency of government policymaking. Government Information Quarterly, 26(1), 148-158.



Jeannine Relly's picture

Contact Information

Jeannine Relly
Associate Professor of Journalism; Member of Executive Committee, Online Graduate Programs in Human Rights Practice


  • B.S. Virginia Tech
  • M.A. The University of Arizona
  • Ph.D. Arizona State University
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences