jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2007

El futuro del periodismo subdesarrollado

Interesante y esperanzador artículo aparecido en The Economist del pasado 15 de septiembre.

Emerging journalism

Journalism training is booming in the developing world

Traditional media may be declining in much of the rich world, but in poor countries it is booming. The growth in private media in developing countries has spurred much of the demand, as has new technology.

That is stoking journalism training in far-flung places, in many shapes and sizes. Joe Foote, an American professor, reckons there may be up to 3,000 courses. They range from full degree programmes to the short-term specialist training offered widely across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Groups offering such courses include the BBC World Service Trust, the Reuters and Thomson Foundations, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews Network, a media-development charity based in America. The Aga Khan, a tycoon-philanthropist and religious leader who has media businesses in the developing world, is considering starting a programme in Africa.

The trend took off after the collapse of communism, when former Soviet-block countries sought new journalists to replace the hacks of the state-controlled propaganda machines. Having started in Poland in the 1990s, the BBC trust has operated in over 50 countries, training more than 1,500 journalists in at least 15 languages.

These days the donors are particularly interested in niches, such as investigative reporting and science writing. But that approach sometimes flops. The need for basic reporting skills is still central. Trainers stress the need for flexibility. Kieran Cooke, a former foreign correspondent turned trainer, says course participants often just want to talk. “They have miserable salaries, take on considerable risks, and still want to carry on.”

Participants in the courses praise the results, while complaining about the lack of focus and co-ordination among some providers. Shapi Shacinda, the Reuters correspondent in Zambia and chairman of the press club in the capital, Lusaka, says that foreign-backed training in business and economic reporting has helped bring more sceptical coverage. Previously, news stories used to be taken straight from officials' statements, he says.

But governments are harder to teach. Encouraging students to probe sensitive topics may threaten their lives or livelihoods. An Iraqi journalist trained by and working with the IWPR was shot dead earlier this year. Just this week, Zambia's minister of information asserted that state-run media should not criticise the government. In Russia, an organisation founded by Internews has been closed by the authorities, who were apparently suspicious of its American backing.

Rich-country governments can be a problem too. Some try to influence the “messages” that trainers deliver, for example by insisting that their diplomats talk to classes on a regular basis. The big training groups insist that they control their own content. “We won't be paid to do messages,” says Anthony Borden of the IWPR. Blurring the boundaries can be dangerous both for journalists and the programmes that support them, he notes. But others may be less choosy.

More is not always better. Quality varies wildly. Places like Bangladesh and Rwanda have been showered with training in recent years. Gratitude is mixed with the wish for better co-ordination. David Okwemba of Kenya's The Nation newspaper, who also helps train journalists, bemoans overlap between courses and providers' failure to share information.

Some courses aspire loftily to build democratic societies through a free press. The BBC trust says it aims to give a say to the common man by holding institutions—public and private—to account. Such a range of goals makes measuring results difficult. Teaching how to point a camera or write a news story may be easy compared to raising awareness of broader issues such as HIV/AIDS.

Many old news hands scoff at the notion of formal journalism education. A well-stocked and inquiring mind plus sharp penmanship are the main assets, they reckon. But even the most grizzled veterans of rich-world journalism still seem glad to earn extra money tutoring tyros in poor countries.

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