Monday, June 13, 2016

Revival of "The Last Three Feet" in Media Training Abroad

Saturday, June 11th 2016

image (not from article) from

Virtually unnoticed, America’s publicly-funded international broadcasters are teaching journalists in other lands digital age in-depth reporting techniques aimed at making a real difference in millions of lives around the globe.
Since 1983, international media training has been conducted by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in more than 130 countries.  Lately, topics have included combating disease in Ukraine and Nigeria, promoting free elections in Ghana, and tackling critical water shortages in the Middle East.
Exploration and use of new media is exploding in the 21st century.  Recognizing this, Western broadcasters have reached out to their colleagues elsewhere.  Their goal: face-to-face encounters between their own journalists practicing and learning that fine art with those craving new ideas about how to move swiftly ahead in a world awash in new media platforms challenging all.
Both sides have gained as a result.  In the “give and take”, the broadcasters gain more valuable insights in person about the current interests and yes, needs of their audiences, than distant communications links might ever provide.
The term, “the last three feet”, has been a mantra of U.S. diplomats for many years --- the importance in public diplomacy, even in a digital age, of conversation, eye to eye contact, and most important, listening.
International media training has combined the magic of all these in enriching journalistic practice and knowledge, worldwide.  It partners with U.S. government agencies, non-governmental organizations, foundations, commercial and public broadcasters.  It helps others create programs that support democratic institutions, good governance and the free flow of information.  These all are essential ingredients of true New Age Diplomacy.
Using funding arranged by the oversight Broadcasting Board of Governors Development and Training department, RFE/RL held four workshops in Ukraine in January and February in cooperation with the country’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and WHO.  The sessions were entitled “Polio: The Protection of Children and the Role of the Media.”  There were 20 participants in the Donetsk region alone from Ukrainian TV channels, newspapers and radio stations.  Other workshops were held in Kyiv for local journalists from areas with low polio vaccination rates.
VOA, too, worked with Ukrainian journalists earlier this year to produce video reports and interviews on polio, using its Ukrainian Service’s Facebook page and Twitter.  The Voice reaches nearly one fifth of Ukraine’s adult population (18 % weekly) via four major networks there.  It included in the training UNICEF and WHO videos urging parents to vaccinate their children.
Late last year, Allen Janssen of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta credited VOA’s public service announcements and town meetings on polio with “practically eliminating a resurgent polio epidemic in Nigeria.”  The BBG’s development and training office sponsored town meetings broadcast live on VOA to once again promote immunization days.  The CDC said these were significant in helping  to head off a re-emergence of polio in Africa’s largest country.
In April, the BBG, VOA and U.S. Embassy in Accra led two four-day workshops aimed at promoting fact-based, objective reporting of the upcoming Ghanaian elections next October.  Sessions focused on the rapidly evolving future of journalism, use of the internet, writing for the web, and building the audience by using social media.  The 20 participants, consulting with their trainers, chose election-related topics and produced their own video, audio and internet reports that were then critiqued by their peers and course leaders.
All were encouraged to use mobile devices to report the election campaign.  One Ghanaian journalist was awarded a prize for a TV report, recorded mostly on his cell phone, on the deteriorating state of rural roads in Ghana and how that might affect turnout in remote areas.  A team of trainees used a newly downloaded app on their smartphones to report pre-election campaign action and voting patterns in the forthcoming election.
One of the local facilitators noted the lack of expertise in the use of social media and smart phones among the participants.  The Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBG’s regional training coordinator supported the idea of continuous monthly meetings throughout the year at Accra’s well-equipped media Impact Hub.
More than two dozen reporters from nine Middle Eastern countries recently attended a workshop on water scarcity in the Jordanian capital, Amman.  The workshop, from May 28 through June 2, was arranged by the BBG development and training office, which works with VOA, Alhurra TV, and Radio Sawa on the campus of the Jordanian Radio Television Corporation. The JRTC chairman, Mohammed Tarawneh, said:  “We are so glad to have our Arabic brethren here to develop a national and regional awareness of how to use water.”
The training was funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureaus of Oceans, Environment and Science.  It featured best practices on new mapping technologies and how social media can help teach the public about conservation and  water saving challenges in a variety of Arab countries.
Reporters exchanged story ideas.  Mehdi Sejjari of Morocco’s Al Messae daily told of his country’s groundbreaking use of solar energy.  Iraqi journalist Khaled Sulaiman described river pollution in his country.  Radhouane Addala, a freelance investigative reporter from Tunisia, said it was difficult to get government documents about drilling and other projects.  At the U.S. funded Samara wastewater plant north of Amman, the journalists observed firsthand how water can be produced exclusively for farming, eliminate water pollution in rivers, and generate 95 percent of its own energy.
As the USC’s Nicholas J. Cull put it in his classic history, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency:  “In the sixty years since 1945, the United States has learned to speak.  Truly effective public diplomacy (I call it New Age Diplomacy) will also require that America learns to listen.”  Clearly, the expanding blend of “last three feet” contacts between journalistically honest international broadcast trainers and trainees on how to harness a universe of media channels creates an important multiplier effect.  It informs millions and even saves more lives than ever before.  That enhances America’s national security in countless ways.

Author: Alan Heil

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