jhr (Journalists for Human Rights) Back in Sierra Leone

With two journalism trainers in place, the New Year marks the re-launch of programs in Freetown, Sierra Leone 

TORONTO, Jan. 20 /CNW/ - "This is a place that's full of potential," says jhr country director Stephen Douglas as we walk through a rugged, hollow building that used to house Sierra Leone's state-run broadcster Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. He was talking about the potential for the station, which is currently being transitioned from a government-run media house to a public broadcaster, modelled after the CBC or BBC, but the statement rings true for media houses and reporters throughout Sierra Leone.

Reporters are barely paid, true, and journalism education isn't meeting profesional standards, but there's an unparalleled hunger among many journalists in Sierra Leone to produce standout rights media. And so, in November 2010, Journalists for Human Rights kicked off a journalism training program in Freetown, the country's capital. For the next seven months, trainers Kimberly Johnson and Logan Campbell will be working in local newsrooms, alongside local reporters to produce human rights stories about localy relevant abuses, such as gender and environmental rights.

"There's a lack of effective news stories, and a lack of effective human rights stories that need to be brought to light," Johnson says about the press in Sierra Leone." jhr is an excellent way to accomplish both." Johnson, a former technology writer for The Denver Post, who also worked for Boston.com as a newsroom researcher and content developer, is placed at Premier newspaper, where she's working with reporters to produce business and environmental stories relating to human rights. One story she's hoping to tackle: the violations surrounding the widening of Wilkinson Road, one of Freetown's main arteries. The street is being widened by the city to ease notorious Freetown traffic, but homes, businesses and hundred-year old trees have been displaced in the process. The story, she says, has been completely ignored by the media. Johnson is hoping that will change, at least among reporters at Premier.

Like Johnson, jhr trainer Campbell recognizes the importance of human rights stories in a post-conflict country.  "Rights-focused media is important to development, and I definitely want to be part of development in Sierra Leone," says Logan, who worked at Metro TV in Ghana and Black Entertainment Television in America before joining jhr in West Africa. He says he's similarly looking forward to working with reporters to ramp up newsgathering skills and in-studio know-how with daily on-the-job training and regular workshops. "I just hope to make SLBC a top notch media institution in Sierra Leone," he says, adding that he'd like it to look like CNN or better. "I'm quite enthused, both professionally and personally," says Campbell with an eager smile. 

jhr is Canada's largest media development organization. Through its projects in post-conflict countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and the DRC, jhr works with local media to reach millions of Africans regularly with human rights stories. jhr's goal  is to make everyone in the world aware of their rights.

SOURCE jhr (Journalists for Human Rights)

For further information:

Aileen Doyle, jhr's Community Programs Coordinator: e. aileen@jhr.ca t. 416 413 0240  w. www.jhr.ca

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jhr (Journalists for Human Rights)

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