Engaging the Media in Human Rights

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Using evaluation results to strategize further

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi.

Hi Sharon, welcome back, i must say your approach of using evaluation to monitor the impart of your media involvement is an excellent one. It is a tool that is useful for all to be able to strategize further. Without the feedback  from evaluation activities one may not really be well guided in sustaining activities carried out or planning effectively for the furture.

I see our media engagement campaign as one that will be sustainable if we carefully also design our system of evaluation alongside our strategic thninking and implementation which i talked about earlier.

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

What makes "news"

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

Increasingly, with strong competition and commercial interests involved in terms of selling more copies or securing bigger audience, media organisations tend to give wider coverage to issues that strike a direct chord with the masses or in short stories that are more saleable. For example even a never-heard-before university with a research finding that hitting the dance floor on friday nights is the best way to lose weight, is quite likely to find good coverage in the media.

But this is not a cause for worry. This carries a simple message that as much as issues are presented to the media establishing a direct connection with the masses, the greater are their chances of being reported and followed up.  It is not just what you have, why you have, it is equally important how you supply it and keeping in mind WHO is it for. Striking a connection with the audience is very important so it is a must that the information meant for them must be conveyed in their language. For example, if you want to say that a certain company X daily releases toxic effluents to fill a trench 100 metres long, I would rather say X company is creating toxc waste the size of a football pitch - every day!


Engaging the media - as consultants

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson.

Great to see you back in the discussion Sharon and for sharing this great example that draws out a number of excellent ideas for others to consider. 1) engaging media as consultants and 2) evaluating the results.

Consultants: As human rights advocates, we don't know everything about every
human rights issue. Similarly, we can't be expected to have expertise in
all other fields - media included. We are fortunate that people from all walks of life and training have dedicated their lives to human rights advoacy. This does not mean that those who make their livings in these fields are also not interested in human rights.

We can forget that's it's not only possible and strategic to engage people that have expertise in their fields - media in term so this discussion. Reaching out to people in media provides an opportunity for people with media expertise to share this in a way that can be highly rewarding for them as well. In my experience people really want to share their gifts and especially when sharing those gifts contributes to a greater good in society. People often just need to be asked to contribute their gifts.

Evaluation: Sharon, this is a great example of how by engaging the media consultants, you were able to take advantage of an additional aspect of their expertise - actually evaluating whether or not you hit the audience you were targeting with your message. The whole area of evaluation will need another discussion to scratch the surface of that topic.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

KISSing is sexy
This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 

Sexiness starts with the KISS — Keep It Simple Sweetie...


The power of headlines. Just gotta love the attention-grabbers on the tabloid.


Then there's the teaser. The come-on that draws you in, along with the looks, the style, the format.


Clearly, much media work relies on sex appeal. And it sells.


But building a relationship demands more than that. You soon get tired of the cutesy with no brains. 


Thank you Mufuliat Fijabi for reminding us that no relationship can survive without genuine, two-way communication, and quality time.


Thank you Alan Davis for reminding us that content still matters more than demeanor. Conventional dress worn with panache will win over flashy gaudiness, any day.


Thank you Sharon Lamwak for telling us that dressing the part is also crucial. Dress casual for the hip crowd. Dress formal for the proper. You draw those you dress for. So package your message for those you aim to reach.


Oh, and thank you Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi for hitting on the simplicity button.


And thank you Davinder Kumar for saying the shorter the better.



"Who" - human rights included in journalism study?

This comment was originally posted by Kristin Antin

I will admit, I am not familiar with the study of journalism. However I am very curious about the present and/or future existence of human rights in its cirriculum.

Do journalism courses include 'reporting on human rights issues'? Have they been popular? I wonder what this course would include. 

Where do you see the future of this relationship among human rights reporting and journalism school?

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics in Human Rights 

Re: human rights in journalism study?

This comment was originally posted by Alan Davis

In trying to answer Kirtsin's very pertinent question, we end up going nearly full circle: As the Jesuits reportedly say/said: 'get me a child aged 7 and /she is mine for life.'  If the human rights community is to 'capture' journalists -the work should start at the very beginning of the education and training level:  A lof of journalists if asked 'why'? they went into journalism, will answer along the lines of -either they love to write (even if TV or radio journalists), or they are looking to help serve society. How better then to do the latter than to get a solid grounding in human rights issues -in the most comprehensive definition of what these are.

I am having direct experience now of the challenges related to journalism in the Philippines -a country where human rights abuses are huge (you name it, they suffer it): The journalists themselves are targets anhd any visit to the CPJ website will show you that the Philippines constantly figure in the most dangerous places to be a journalist. Unfortunately the total disconnect at the moment is that despite everything, journalism in the Philippines is still very heavily determined and driven by a beat system of reporting that keeps everbody in his/her box: Journalists cover city hall, they cover police beats or they cover personalities. Media is very heavily reactive and not as conscious or active as it may be (one of the things we are trying to do for example is redefine the police beat into a 'justice' beat).  In this way, the journalists start to think 'outside the box' and start to be more (pro)active in their reporting....

To cut to the chase then, we in discussion with colleagues about how to get a human rights module incorporated into the training provided to undergraduates on the journalism training courses provided to students at the University of the Philippines -and there is a scheduled conference over the summer with journalism academics from all over the Philippines on this specific theme - human rights. So Kirtsin asks a critical question that we need to address and answer. As the Jesuits say....    


Alan Davis

Director of Special Projects




Re: How to get human rights into journalism education

This comment was originally posted by Alan Davis

Hi Nancy et al,

I wholly agree it is crucial -though maybe we have not consciously tried to address it as we might all should.  Sometimes our journlism training and education is based upon old traditions and old text books and old assumptions. Many of these Anglo-saxon style approaches (short hand-reporting 1 credit, central  political systems 1 credit, local libel law, 1 credit and so on...) may have been simply transferred into journalism schools in developing and transitional  societies without much thought about whether these places need a little more. Again, when there is a strong democratic system (allegedly) and a long history of civil society and a vibrant media and all comlplete with checks and balances, then it is harder to make the case that the media has to be or do soemthing more......but in the  absence of some or all of the the above......I think targeting journalism educators is critical and  perhaps we have not really thought about it as muchas we might. In the coming months I am due to speak at a national conference for Philippine journalism educators about the importance of ensuring human rights education as a component -and maybe we need a lot more of these events to start waking people up and the role the subject can play in local journalism facilties. Ironic (and sad) that journalists can already invariably take modules on business reporting perhaps, while  human rights reporting at the moment doesn;t really get a look in. Something we need to change.



Alan Davis

Director of Special Projects




Other upstream ideas

This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 


Following on the tread started by Kristin, and the ensuing AHA! ideas around working human rights content into journalism school, I would like to suggest two other "upstream" and unconventional ways we might seek to awaken a human rights sensitivity among new or younger journalists.


1) Support student activism, especially in journalism school. Many journalists were changed forever through transformative experience while in college and university. Speaking in schools and supporting student mobilizations for their rights may be key ways to support future journalists who will be more aware of, and more deeply involved in, human rights issues.


2) Support journalists' unions. Here in Quebec, most professional journalists are unionized. Strikes in the information industry have usually been quite harsh and difficult. A tabloid in Quebec City has now been locked out for a record amount of time. Meanwhile, the locked out journalists are producing an alternative paper that is distributed for free in the streets of Quebec City, with a political flavour that is not as constrained as that found in the paper their employer used to publish.


Such experiences are transformative. Human rights and social change organizations supporting journalists, young and old, as they face their own challenges can only help sensitize and radicalize new generations of reporters and news editors. As they learn the meaning of empathy and solidarity, they tend to become more sympathetic and proactive in seeking to explain and support human rights cases.


These are just two ideas. Anybody else can suggest other means of helping journalists cover and support human rights from their own hearts and experience?


Philippe Duhamel

Much ado about...

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

Journalists often not only need information but knowledge to understand, process and report is responsibly. The same onus lies on the NGOs to take accountability for what they produce and what they propagate. Alarmist activism and alarmist journalism may grab headlines but they both defeat the overall object and purpose of achieving "greater common good".  Just as media self regulation is very critical for non-partisan flow of information, it is equally important that NGOs to lead journalists and masses on campaigns based on fundamental principles of rights creating duties.

For example as an activist campaigning for human rights I might say that human rights abuses are huge in Philippines but as a reporter, I would be careful to make that statement. Any research or campaign in the domain of human rights must check its findings and reports within the sphere of international human rights law. Loosely used blanket terms such as "torture" "discrimination" "blatant violation of human rights" carry very serious meaning. For example stating that a group in a particular country is indulging in "torture" and "genocide" or another group, is in effect wrong if there is no established and proven collusion of state in such actions. Not all journalists are experts in human rights law and it is therefore important that more and more media persons are involved in understanding the legal aspect of reporting on human rights situations. It is a very vital need for any Journalism school to make students aware of international human rights law and the legal framework of treaty bodies in which their country operates.

Here is my overall summary in a nutshell.

* Get your facts right

* Keep it simple

* Use innovative ways

* Know WHO your target audience are

* Also in brief : Know WHEN you should do it. Unless it is an emergency, planned campaigns and briefings must be carefully chosen around the time when political activity is at its highest. I would choose to hold a press conference when the Parliament session is on rather than have it during holidays. Monday's papers are thin with stories - I would send a press release on Sunday morning ..etc

NGOs showing appreciation to the media as well

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi.

I must say that i have really enjoyed the discussion so far. I have gained a lot from the experience sharing But one more thing to add before we conclude is the need for NGOs to also show appreciation to the media in their effort to achieve change in the society. One may want to ask appreciation in what sense? After all they are doing their job.

The kind of appreciation i am talking about is sending in letters of commendation/appreciation once in a while when we hear them report our issues very well or publish stories around the issues very well. This i belief will be a kind of inspirational gift to them and natuarlly will make them do more.

 When  we also publish some of our documents, we should also see it as a priority to  send copies to the media the way we do with other organisations.

This is my thought for now and hoping that there will be more opportunity in the furture to take all our discussion points further.

It has been wonderful discussing with you all 

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

This Comment is in response to the student of photojournalism

This comment was originally posted by Sharon Lamwaka. 

I would like to share with you the Ugandan experience. Some Universities in Uganda have been accused of being theoretical which is a complete contrast to expectations in the practical employer world. When students of journalism leave the school arena, they find that the world outside is different from the classroom scenario. For example, when a student is taught objectivity in the classroom, how then can objectivity be used practically in a newsroom?


My organisation, African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) has in light of the above selected some Universities in Uganda where we go out and sensitise students on torture-related issues. A practical example here: We went to Faculties of Law and Medicine for an awareness exercise in one of the top Universities in Uganda. I was shocked to find out that students did not know regional and international instruments on torture and these are the next generation of possible human rights activists! And this is in one of the best Universities in Uganda. Much worse, even some lecturers were relying on information that my organisation was providing. In light of this, I agree with the Boston student that human rights could be a component in journalism syllabi. Right now, ACTV with the help of key resource persons that we usually work with in some Universities here are influencing incorporating the Istanbul Protocol which is a set of international guidelines on documenting and investigating torture abuses in the syllabi of both law and medical students. I also know of another University here where human rights activists are invited to share their experiences with students in Law Faculties.


If your University is not already doing it, field trips are very good learning environs. And it should not just be field trips where students are taken to listen to editors talk but it should be practical in the sense that you the learner are taken through the process of filing a story and this is where the editor guides the student through a hands-on approach. Learning visits (field trips) make a whole lot of difference. For instance, your University could plan visits to places where human rights violations have taken place, e.g., genocide museums in Rwanda. I have been there myself and it made a whole lot of difference to my human rights work. Being there gives a face to what you have only read or heard about in the classroom. If as a journalist, you are assigned to cover an extremely sensitive story, classroom knowledge alone will not provide you with the cons and ethos of how to handle such a story but field work will. There is so much to write but let me stop here for now.


Sharon Lamwaka, Uganda.

Incorporating human rights in higher education

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson

I want to thank Sharon for raising these very important and excellent ideas for incorporating human rights perspectives into higher education. As people involved in human rights, I think it is especially important that we work to dispell the myth that by incorporating human rights perspectives into the educational process, field work and mentoring processes that objectivity is lost.

As Sharon mentioned, ACTV is working to influence Universities in Uganda to incorporate the Istanbul Protocol - internationally recognized and accepted guidelines for documenting and investigating torture abuses. This protocol actually helps to eliminate bias; rather it helps medical professionals to objectively document evidence of torture.

Real world, "hands-on" experiences for young people coming into professions, including journalism, is always an excellent idea. 
Providing journalists, other professionals and, really our citizens from every walk of life, with human rights perspectives can only enhance our respect for and treatment of each other.


Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

2009 New Resources - Reporting gender based violence

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson.

I wanted to share this excellent new resource on Reporting Gender Based Violence: A Handbook for Journalists, Published by Inter Press Service

Along with the other excellent chapters in the the handbook, a page is included on "Coping with the trauma of reporting on GBV", page 71.

"A great online resource is the DART Centre for Journalism and Trauma (http://dartcentre.org) – for journalists who cover violence. It also provides guidelines on how to cover violence, including online learning on journalism and trauma and photography and trauma. You can join the DART network and they are also available on social networking site, Facebook."

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

The Dart Center

This comment was originally posted by Jane Mills

Dart and NGOs seeking Media Coverage:

I'm really glad you mentioned the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. It can be a very good resource for human rights defenders seeking media coverage.

Its overarching mission is to educate journalists on the effects of trauma and traumatic events on its victims and the effect of media coverage on victims as well. The goal is to help journalists provide sensitive, informed coverage of the affects of violence and other sources of trauma, especially crime. The hope is that well trained journalists will help the public appreciate and understand the heavy psychological, economic and social toll of crime, violence, wars and any kind of trauma. 

The Dart Center also is a good resource for activists who need to get an insight into how journalists are thinking when approaching a story, that is, those journalists committed to providing very good coverage of the impact of trauma.  Editors and reporters associated with Dart already have a deep interest in this.

Dart has a network of journalists, journalist fellows and editors all over the world who could be searched in any strategy where an NGO is looking for journalists, editors and publications particularly experienced and attuned to their issues.

It is also a good resource for NGOs wanting a reference point for best practices in journalism for covering trauma, traumatic events and by extension any human rights violations and abuses.  That can help in evaluating your expectations of the press. Although Dart's original focus was violence, the same sensitivities and knowledge applies to covering human rights abuses of all kinds.

There is wonderful information on the Dart web site about story "framing," how stories framed thematically tend to have more depth while stories framed as event coverage -- 'just the facts' -- can be prone to sensationalism. I recommend reading materials on this site.

Occupational Trauma and journalists as human rights defenders:

Incidentally, on the topic of journalists and trauma, Dart was one of the first to begin raising the issue of occupational trauma among journalists.  Because Dart's mission has to do with victims of crime and violence, the discussion at Dart has focused most on journalists affected by witnessing trauma, disasters, wars, murders, secondary trauma,  risking their lives by working in war zones and so on.

But there are really two main sources of stress and trauma for journalists. That is one. The other is even more prevalent and it is being targeted, harassed and threatened for doing their work. There is not yet enough appreciation for this in what is still a fledgling effort to address occupational stress among journalists. It ranges from slander to murder.  Indeed, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported this year that the majority of journalists killed are killed in retaliation for their work, to prevent them from  seeking out and reporting the truth, not because they are in a war zone or caught in a Tsunami.  For those asking whether there is common ground/intersection between  advocates/activists and media, it is and probably only is universally, among all news media, in the struggle to protect Free Press rights. Media members are human rights defenders when they are fighting and sacrificing for this. This intersection is a very real one. 

The press tries very hard to provide detached reporting, and fiercely guards its independence. Editorial writers clearly advocate, but one expects they be beholden to no one. To write 'without fear or favor,' to be independent of anyone's agenda is an old aphorism in the news business. At the very core of most journalism ethics codes is to seek the truth diligently, not compile and assemble facts and opposing quotes with minimal feeling or thought.

Journalists who passionately tell a story about an injustice while demonstrating diligence and intelligence with the facts are not keeping it secret from anyone, nor are they trying to keep it secret, that they think that story has to be told nor are they mortified when their stories become a persuasive instrument for reform. That's their job.


This comment was originally posted by Jane Mills

oops, a postscript: The Dart Center would be a very good model for a similar center focused on human rights, its mission being to educate journalists on human rights issues. The Dart Center has been very successful, very influential among news people.  Unfortunately the news industry is contracting and profit pressures are undermining news quality anyway but I don't know a first rate news company that does not appreciate and respect Dart's work.