We’ve completed our first week of arts and media training with around 55 youth in Cumbana, a coastal community some 450 kms north of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. If you ever tried to Google Cumbana, you’d find information about a photographer with the same last name or links to tourist hotels at the nearby beaches in Maxixe or Inhambane, and not much else. We actually did this as part of our Tuesday session on Internet with the youth. Googling New York was another story. But why?
We turned it around to the youth. Why is there no information on Cumbana? The conclusion was you only find things on internet that someone puts there, and no one had bothered, no one had ever really uploaded anything about Cumbana. And that meant that this group of youth has a big responsibility, because they are going to be the ones to put Cumbana on the map. Photo: After Cumbana, the top Google search among our small population was, of course, Michael Jackson.
What does that mean? Aside from producing arts and media to raise issues that affect them and engage their communities in jointly finding solutions, the youth will be the ones to define Cumbana. As Lauren (the Peace Corps volunteer who’s been teaching at the school for the past 2 years) said: “Did we find anything about you all in Cumbana now on the internet? No. When will there be something about Cumbana? When you make the effort to put it there.” Photo: Mobile phone connections are much more likely than computers in the near future, so we trained on internet also using mobiles.
Access to internet whether by laptop using mobile internet or directly on a phone is a huge hit with the kids, 75% of whom had never been online before. Our 2 hour session could have gone on all day for all they cared. The idea of putting yourself on the map seems to have appeal in the same way that having a Facebook page does. It’s about self publishing and creating an identity. Photo left: Anthony the local Peace Corps Volunteer supported with the internet and is working with the theater group. Photo below: Lauren, Peace Corps Volunteer, is working with the multimedia group.
But as we are seeing more and more, citizen journalism has its downfalls (think Fort Hood). So it was great to see the debates about ethics in journalism that also happened last week. Jeremias from Radio Mozambique facilitated a great session. He was excited to be part of the workshop because, as he said, “I’m a journalist. I want to groom more young people from right here in the community where I came from to follow in my profession, and this is a great chance for all of us.”
During Jeremias’ session on ethics, the kids hotly debated the question of whether you should show the face of someone caught stealing. Many felt that this would punish the thief as well as protect the community. Jeremias countered, “In Mozambique, whose job is it to determine guilt or punishment? Eh? It’s not the role of the journalist. It’s the role of the judicial system. Like it or not, that’s how it is.” He talked about the basic rules in journalism to protect people, about divulging information and objectivity. “When you leave here, to do work out there in the community, you need to be sure to hear all sides. You need to protect the good name of people. This is our responsibility. This is ethics. You cannot condemn someone until the judicial system has determined that they are guilty.”
I sat there wishing every self-appointed citizen journalist followed those rules, and self-examining whether I always do. But it also got me thinking about how when you are not in a free state, your judicial system is totally non functional, or there is corruption within the journalism profession or media houses, things are not nearly so clear. Sometimes things need to be filmed to get something to happen, whether they’ve been proven or not. What are the rules and ethics then? (I’m sure I can Google this and find a debate!)
The youth were cautioned to leave aside sensationalism. “Often wanting to be the first to get the news out makes us less careful as journalists” Jeremias said. If we drop the bomb, we’re likely to see the next day that we are the ones being processed, accused of not being ethical.” Photo: Jeremias and a youth participant share ideas.
“The ethics of a journalist come from within us,” he said. Sometimes even a journalist’s own employers may ask him do things that are not ethical. Or others want a certain story to come out and they try to bribe a journalist. This makes it really difficult to be a journalist. A journalist needs to have high and strong ethics and maintain objectivity,” he told the kids.
“So you see, journalist is under constant pressure. It’s REALLY easy to get a recorder, to make a story. It’s more difficult to think through what the consequences of publishing that story might be. As a journalist, your goal is not to get famous; it’s to transmit information, so get the idea of fame right out of your head.”
Jeremias is a wise man and we are really lucky to have him training our group of journalists.
Cumbana is the only secondary school (it covers to 10th grade) in the entire district, with 3 sessions a day, serving some 4000 students (if the teacher I asked is correct). The opportunity to participate in a program like YETAM is huge for students and teachers alike. In addition to the journalist group, there is theater, music and dance, multimedia, and painting. For the kids, it’s like a 2 week summer camp where they strengthen leadership skills, improve their studies, get organized to address community challenges facing youth, and think about careers outside of the norm. For the teachers, it’s an opportunity to engage with students in a different way, to strengthen their teaching methodologies and improve their ICT skills. For the partners, it’s an opportunity to give back to the community and, of course, to discover new talent for their professions.