William Yaw Owusu is a journalist with Ghana’s Daily Guide newspaper, based in Accra. Recently, he returned from an exchange trip to Sierra Leone, organized by JHR and sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation. Prior to the trip, he had hosted visiting journalists from Sierra Leone in his newsroom in Accra.
According to Yaw Owusu, the seminars focused on peace, security and development journalism were particularly beneficial to his work as a political reporter. “I hope JHR does not stop here. The ethical infractions in journalism in all of West Africa are enormous,” he said. “This program is a step in the right direction and there should be more of such training programs for others to benefit too.” The exchange program represents innovation in programming for JHR on two fronts. It’s the first time JHR has attempted to work at a regional level, pairing West African journalists from two very different countries, Ghana and Sierra Leone. And it is the first time we have attempted to deliberately formalize a region-wide approach to South-learning-from-South: a training ethos that, through creative hiring and management strategies, has proved very effective for JHR in other projects. The project ran through November of 2011.
In the first half, the exchange brought three journalists from Sierra Leone to Ghana to job shadow Ghanaian journalists at Citi FM, the Daily Guide and Joy FM. The journalists, Mohamed Faray Kargbo, James Fallah and Betty Milton, also worked with JHR rights media trainer, Paul Carlucci – who worked hard to put on two days of reporting workshops in Accra. The Ghana selection committee then picked three Ghanaian journalists, Nelson Adanuti and Stella Danso as well as Yaw Owusu, to head to Sierra Leone. Their tasks: to job shadow Sierra Leonean journalists and attend a series of workshops on electoral reporting hosted by JHR rights media trainers Jessica Mcdiarmid and Damon van der Linde as well as JHR Country Director Stephen Douglas.
With Ghana and Sierra Leone facing monumental, and potentially controversial, presidential elections in late 2012, participants noted that this exchange program couldn’t have come at a better time. It provided journalists from both West African Nations the opportunity to travel to and better understand how nearby nations, facing similar challenges with corruption and security, plan to use the media in order to maintain peace and promote democracy throughout the upcoming elections. It also provided the six participating journalists insight into the human rights issues that exist outside their own countries, and the challenges other journalists in the region face when covering them. At the end of the exchange program, the journalists were able to assemble a shared planning strategy for elections coverage and a calendar to help guide their plans for the upcoming year. They reported an increased understanding of their role as journalists and the role of media during elections throughout the region. Best yet, early feedback indicates the participants will also ensure that the knowledge they gained through their exchange experience continues to be passed on, long after the project has wrapped.
Sierra Leonean Mohamed Faray Kargbo of Radio Democracy in Freetown said, “When I get back home the first thing I will do is call a meeting with my colleagues in my radio station and educate them.” Now that’s impact. Special thanks go to Naregh Galoustian for sourcing the funding and designing the project, Paul Carlucci, Nana Asante, Jessica McDiarmid, Damon van der Linde and Stephen Douglas for implementing the project, the selection committees in both countries and the team of exchange journalists for their enthusiastic participation.