A look at what Journalists for Human Rights has done in Canada and around the world
West Africa + the Democratic Republic of the Congo
JHR has implemented sector-wide media development interventions across Africa for fifteen years. Currently, JHR’s team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are based out of Kinshasa and Bukavu. They train journalists across the country, helping them put their skills into practice by making human rights radio and TV documentaries, with an emphasis on country-wide non-partisan election and governance reporting.
JHR started media development work in Ghana in 2004. JHR-trained journalist Richard Sky, a reporter for Citi FM, reported on Ghana’s largest hospital illegally dumping toxic waste. Through his investigation, Richard discovered this dumping was the leading cause of the ongoing citywide cholera outbreak. This story motivated the hospital to repair its sewage treatment facility and clean up the dump site.
JHR-trained Tamba Tengbeh of Cotton Tree News in Sierra Leone investigated a story of the government withholding promised funds from the disabled community in 2011. This story prompted the government to take action to trace and deliver on these promises in addition to funding a disability walk in the country.
Charles Yates, a Liberian JHR-trained journalist, wrote a story in 2009 exposing toxic runoff pollution from a rubber plantation in Margibi District. This write-up caused the Liberian President to order facility-wide audits.
In Liberia, JHR-trained reporter Nathan Charles produced a series of reports for Liberia Media System in 2011. These reports exposed the poor conditions of Bong Mines Hospital, especially its lack of doctors. When his story aired, it caused national outrage and resulted in government intervention to ensure an on-site doctor and steady flow of medication. As emphasized in his JHR mentorship program, Nathan followed up with authorities consistently to ensure their follow through.
Also in Liberia, Kolubah Akoi of Lofa County used Facebook to protect his community from Ebola. During the height of the Ebola crisis in 2014 and 2015, Kolubah posted daily on where to get medical help, how to care for the sick and the dead safely, and helped separate medical facts from myth. For his reporting work on the social media platform, Kolubah received an African Union Humanitarian Award.
Alphonse Nekwa, a JHR-trained reporter in Matadi, in the DRCongo’s Bas-Congo province, produced radio stories uncovering the obstacles faced by the speech and hearing impaired. His work was spurred by the lack of information accessibility options provided to this community of around 90,000 individuals during the 2011 elections. The issue went viral and prompted the state news broadcaster to include sign language interpretation on all major newscasts. The government subsequently committed funds towards building a school for the speech- and hearing-impaired, which was completed in 2014.
Each year, JHR celebrates human rights reporting in the DRC. In 2016, Zaïna Kere Kere, a journalist for “Numérica TV” in Kinshasa, covered the effects of early pregnancy on the lives and futures of young mothers in the nation’s capital. She even lived alongside these mothers for two months while filming. This is an accomplished example of local journalistic exploration into issues young women face in the DRC.
In March 2016, Congolese journalists participated in the JHR-funded National Forum in Kinshasa. It resulted in the founding of the National Club JDH (CNJDH). CNJDH works to endow reporters with a support structure in their reporting on the election process and local issues. The President of the Provisional Committee CNJDH, Miphie Buata states, “we have put in place a stronger structure and engaged on issues of human rights and the security of Congolese journalists.”
JHR’s work in South Sudan is focused on the development of government accountability through a strengthened capacity of the media to report on issues of importance to South Sudanese citizens, particularly issues related to gender, which, not coincidentally, frequently address human development needs. These include stories on service delivery such as access for girls to education, health and better governance.
Jale Richard, a reporter for the Juba Monitor, published an article in 2016 sparking an investigation into missing payments for girls’ education at a local school in South Sudan. Unknown errors caused over 40 names to be absent from the list of female students to receive funding from Girl’s Education South Sudan (GESS), a project funded by the United Kingdom. Jale’s story highlighted concerns over procedure for the cash funding, which is given directly to female students in order to increase enrollment and attendance. Jale heard reports of teachers stealing the money and faculty requesting that parents use it to pay for school repairs and costs. Jale’s story prompted GESS to hold a public awareness event allowing journalists to seek direct answers. Her questions lead to organizers agreeing to conduct an investigation into the missing funding to ensure that it goes to the students who need it.
Sarafina Paul is a journalist at Bakhita Radio in Juba, South Sudan. Early this year she developed the idea to have an Arabic talk radio show discussing the effects of dowry payments on young couples. These payments not only impose undue financial stress during the current economic crisis but intensely skew inter-relationship power dynamics. Through her JHR mentorship she expanded this program to include in-person and live radio interviews, working up the courage to promote public discourse on such an important women’s issue. Her show prompted many calls to the station and put an issue previously derided as a ‘women’s issue’ high on the public agenda.
Indigenous Reporters Program
The Indigenous Reporters Program (IRP) is JHR’s Canadian initiative. The two goals of this program are 1) to build opportunities for Indigenous peoples to pursue careers in media and 2) ensure that non-Indigenous journalists are trained in best practices for reporting on Indigenous people, culture and issues. The objective of these goals is to strengthen the Indigenous voice and representation in Canadian media.
Since 2014 JHR has provided 27 scholarships and 23 internships, with 4 more scheduled for Fall 2017. To date, 18 of 19 JHR intern alumni are working in the media/journalism sector – a success rate of over 90%.
Last year, IRP trainee Sam Hunter in Peawanuck, Ontario was forced to drastically alter his diet to prevent type 2 diabetes. He adopted the traditional diet of his ancestors, which consists primarily of meat and fish fresh from the bush and rivers around him, and had very positive results. Sam used his JHR training to write about the experience. His piece was published by Wawatay News and on the Peawanuck website started by Sam and his fellow JHR trainees. His story showcased a made-in-community solution to a problem that plagues the North. Red Cross Personal Support Worker Lead trainer Felicia Danesi incorporated Sam’s story in her curriculum and uses it to teach personal care and nutrition to future support workers heading to remote First Nations communities.
The Kids Wanna Know is a weekly radio show hosted by Eabametoong radio and cable station in Eabametoong First Nation. Developed by JHR community trainer Leigh Nunan with local youth, The Kids Wanna Know gives these kids ownership over their platform for reporting. Along with technical skills, such as camera and mixing board operations, the participants learn interview prep, execution and radio commentary prowess. The radio show involves a once weekly planning session on Tuesdays and now airs each Friday.
TRC Commissioner Murray Sinclair retweeted an excellent story by Gail Gallagher, published in Wawatay News on August 15. The story covered the need for a stronger inquiry into an incident in Thunder Bay where an Indigenous woman died after a trailer hitch was thrown at her from a passing truck. What this means: the trainee, who previously hadn’t considered journalism as a career, is now contributing directly to the national conversation on racial violence in Thunder Bay.
JHR’s program in the Middle East and North Africa is working in partnership with the Community Media Network and the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Amman, Jordan. In operations since 2013, the project trains journalists and journalism students in human rights reporting and data journalism.
Rania Sarayreh, a JHR-trained journalist at the leading daily Al Ghad began to collect large data sets on the regional migrant crisis between Syria and Jordan in early 2016.
She did this to provide information on services available to refugees and migrants, while debunking widespread misconceptions about this phenomenon. Thousands of copies of Rania’s report were distributed to refugee camps and across local townships by legal aid and relief organizations, which reported a spike in applications for their services. Rania’s work addressed a clear need to raise awareness among host and migrant communities on the rights of migrants to legal aid, in order to avoid the dangers of fleeing Jordan illegally across the Mediterranean Sea.
In November 2015, JHR-trained Jordanian journalist Ezz Alnatour published a story featuring the account of the mother of a Jordanian imprisoned in Iraq since the war of 2003. His story, published on 7iber.com, prompted the release of a prisoner from an Iraqi jail. Ezz’ story enhanced pre-existing data on Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports describing the conditions endured by Jordanian prisoners in Iraq. He articulated questions around the legality of sentencing procedures behind the imprisonment of Jordanian soldiers. He also highlighted that the reason for the participation of these Jordanian soldiers was primarily as college students looking to take advantage of the low fees Iraq charged for higher education at the time.
In December 2015, JHR-trained Jordanian journalist Dana Gibreel won JHR’s annual human rights journalism award for her reporting on police brutality in Jordan. Dana interviewed the family members of the 27 citizens and 7 security personnel who were killed in security raids between January 2013 and October 2015. She led an investigation into the failure of law enforcement to comply with legal procedures and transparency regarding these casualties, which resulted in increased pressure on law enforcement to improve practices and renew civilian trust in the rule of law.
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