July 16, 2007
By Mary Reed
As oppressive regimes give way to more open, democratic societies around the globe, redeveloping nations often have little idea how to effectively implement a new privilege: freedom of the press. For the past week, the Scripps College of Communication has been helping 17 broadcast journalists from Indonesia face the opportunities and challenges of reporting news in an open society.
The journalists are participating in a State Department-funded exchange program at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism through Tuesday. Specifically, they are studying coverage of ethnic diversity and conflict. This part of their training will be followed by three-week internships at TV stations around Ohio.
"Press freedom is still a relatively new thing in their country," said Associate Professor of Journalism Mary Rogus, who led a seminar for the journalists in Jakarta in March and is participating in this one. Nearly 10 years after the end of Indonesia's authoritarian Suharto regime, television media is exploding there.
"We (Americans) have been doing this television thing for a long time now, and we've figured some things out," Rogus said. When covering conflict, she said, "It's not our job to fix things, but it is our job to give people the tools to fix things and not make them worse."
Dandhy Dwi Laksono, a news producer for RCTI television news in Jakarta, said he is here to learn more about how American journalists access information from the government. "Journalists in America can focus on the big picture," he said, "(while) in Indonesia, the government holds all the public information for their own interests."
Ironically, the Indonesian journalists have access to documents at Ohio University that are unavailable in their home country. Alden Library has an extensive Southeast Asian Collection, and the university is designated as a Southeast Asian Studies National Resource Center.
"We use the same paradigm (as American TV journalists): footage first, perspective later," Laksono said. But he agrees with Rogus' assessment that journalists should not amplify conflict through their coverage. "Journalists should have nothing to do with nationality or national identity. Our universal language is humanity."
Laksono will intern at WHIO in Dayton, where he plans to work on stories about gun rights and the 911 emergency response system.
"The people we have here in this group, many of them are getting toward the mid-career professional (stage)," said David Mould, associate dean of the Scripps College. "They're not just journalists themselves, but (they are going) to train younger journalists because to be frank, most universities in these countries are doing a terrible job."
Scripps has stepped forward to train journalists in other nations as well. For example, the Ohio University Institute for Telecommunications Studies is partnering with the National University of Kyiv in Ukraine to develop a multimedia production program. Also funded by the U.S. State Department, the program is developing state-of-the-art production facilities and academic offerings in television, documentary and media production.
"Journalists around the world struggle and sacrifice, even their lives ... to just tell the truth," Rogus said. "I think it inspires us to keep fighting for our freedoms as journalists."