Betty Milton is a print reporter working with the Awoko newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Recently Betty took part in a Journalists for Human Rights workshops series that has helped shape her career as a journalist.
‘Journalists really need to know about human rights and gender issues,’ said Milton. ‘With the workshops, I learned how to address human rights issues, gender issues, child rights issues, and how to write properly about these issues.’
Numerous journalists who had attended JHR workshops or worked with a trainer previously expressed keen interest in getting more training and acquiring in-depth knowledge of human rights legislation — and how to incorporate it into their day-to-day work.
However with the duties of JHR trainers focused primarily on journalists at their host media organizations the trainers had not been able to work with all the journalists outside those media outlets as much as they would have liked or as much as the Sierra Leonean journalists, who are eager to work with JHR, requested.
The solution? A workshop series that brought together 24 journalists from more than a dozen print and radio outlets for a three-hour seminar and discussion each week, covering national and international human rights legislation and treaties, journalism skills and ethics, and story ideas.
The United Nations’ human rights office and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone provided support for what became dubbed the ‘Workshop Series,’ and the US Embassy in Freetown offered up cameras and digital recorders as awards for a human rights reporting contest.
Discussions gave journalists a chance to talk about how these laws affect the lives of people around them, and how to incorporate human rights treaties and legislation into their daily reporting. Journalists who participated performed role plays, talked through story ideas and worked on strategies for reporting on Sierra Leone’s upcoming election. Participants also did weekly assignments, producing dozens of human rights stories.
Abdul Samba Brima says the series helped change his perspective of human rights and how to include international and national agreements in his reporting.
‘It did change my journalism significantly,’ said Brima, 25. ‘The workshop strengthened my ability to do thorough investigative journalism, and also helped me to learn more about legal interpretations of human rights reporting, and that was always one of my grey areas.’
‘It’s really, really what we need as journalists in Sierra Leone. We tend to dwell on the minister said, the president said, forgetting that what they said effects everyone.’
With the continued support from Canada’s JHR community more workshops like this can happen in Sierra Leona. More workshops will help more journalists become better reporters who will impact change through their work.