Friday, November 18, 2011

Ugandan students shine in online course

I always learn more from teaching than my students learn from me.

This was certainly the case with my just-completed online Advanced Peace Journalism course. The online course was the last activity of a 16-month, $270,000 US State Department/USAID-sponsored peace journalism project in Uganda.

The eight week course, team taught by myself and Ugandan peace journalist Gloria Laker, was “attended” by 10 radio journalists who had prior, face to face PJ training in Uganda. The students analyzed peace journalism case studies (in Gaza and Macedonia, for example), confronted the reservations expressed by PJ’s critics, and looked at how peace journalism can be applied to the reporting of current events like the Casey Anthony trial in the U.S. or the mass shootings in Norway. As a culminating activity, the reporters produced excellent radio stories with a peace journalism theme. (Click here to listen).

The students posted volumes of insightful comments, none more so than when we discussed if peace journalists should publish gruesome photos of ‘dead Gaddafi’. One wrote, “I would censor a photo/video that would cause violence because if the photo/video is too graphic it can escalate the conflict because the affected side, say if they see the mutilated body of their leader, may never forgive the opponents.” Another radio reporter wrote, “As a peace journalist, I do think that such a picture is inciting and results into violent and very unprofessionally published, Instead they should have torn down by fading face and publishing in black and white to reduce the sensitive of the image and the reducing violence.”

This led to a more general discussion about how to handle controversial and potentially volatile stories. A student wrote, “Most reporters do think that big news is controversial news… Sometimes reporters do forget that they judge and begin to nickname some one like murderer, thief, rapist, killer etc. making one side look dirty hence … bias minds toward one side. We should try as much as possible to be fair to all (because) emotions, discriminations and bitter statements may result in another war or even genocide because of the negligence of some reporters and editors.”

He concluded, “When media don’t provide complete, accurate information delivered with a dose of anti-government skepticism, they become little more than government propagandists.”

The online students unanimously agreed to the need for continued peace journalism training in Uganda. One wrote, “Peace Journalism is essential to journalists in Uganda if the current strife from the community and government is to be addressed. A number of journalists have been victim to the current accusation of bad journalism on Ugandan practitioners. Some have been imprisoned, some murdered in mob violence for ‘not being objective. We should not say journalists in Uganda are practising bad journalism but they only lack skills in Peace Journalism which will make them be appreciated as important people in the community.”

Another said, “The best way to reach my colleagues is to use case studies where peace journalism has worked. I would convince them about the utility (usefulness) and power of peace journalism by telling them that peace journalism is solution-orientated because it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also humanizes the enemy and exposes lies on all sides. I would also convince them that peace journalism highlights peace initiatives and also focuses on the invisible effects of violence, such as psychological trauma.”

The dedication of these students, who overcame some major technical obstacles in completing this online course (including brown-outs and typhoid), has stoked my resolve to continue teaching peace journalism in Uganda and elsewhere.

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