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Journalism and Human Rights

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

Last Wednesday, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) organized a talk at UoG to showcase their organization and recount the experiences of one of its members at the SkyPower FM radio station in Ghana.

Nikki Whaites, JHR’s International Programs Director and UoG alumn, opened the event with a short description of the organization. She said that Western media, when talking about developing countries, only "focuses on the suffering, the spectacular or the familiar. There is a complete lack of knowledge about human rights [in those countries].” JHR was born with the mandate to increase awareness of human rights in Africa, by sending over Canadian journalists to work daily with local journalists.

JHR is now working in 10 countries, all of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa, choosing to depart "the familiar" that Whaites mentioned. JHR also has a university/college chapter system to work across Canada, "to address human rights issues in Canada," and have also recently expanded to the US, starting up in Dallas, Texas, of all places.

Whaites then gave the floor to John Gaudi, another UoG alumn and former programmer at CFRU. Gaudi got a degree in radio journalism after leaving Guelph and worked for several months at Ghana's SkyPower FM radio. Gaudi started with the disclaimer was that "we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.” He also cited the main difficulty in performing his task as facilitator for human rights issues: "you have to establish a relationship.” In his case, “in the first actual two months there were no story meetings,” so it was extremely difficult to keep track of what everyone was doing.

Whaites chipped in saying that “journalists in Ghana get paid to go to press conferences - they write verbatim whatever the minister said.” Gaudi admitted that, due to this idiosyncrasy, “there were some people in the newsroom that didn't want to work with me.” At one point, his Ghanaian partner came up to him and said "John, what are you really doing here?" Gaudi admits that it is a tough question to answer, but that "what it comes down to is a partnership with an individual."

Whaites also defended the role of JHR, saying that they don’t impose journalists or contents on local media. “Everyone that works with us is absolutely voluntary." Gaudi closed by saying that "going away somewhere helps you look back to your own community," as a call for students to participate in these type of programs. While JHR does use trained journalists for the bulk of its programs (UoG does not have a journalism program), they hope to be implementing internship programs for undergraduates in the near future, and Whaites encouraged participants in the talk to get involved with JHR’s chapter at the University of Guelph.

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