UNESCO/BBC IPDC Project report: Improving Media Coverage of Gender Issues in Tajikistan

30 June 2005

Goal: Strengthening the media’s ability to play an active role in civil society and realise its potential as a catalyst for democratic change in Tajikistan. To raise awareness of women’s rights and gender issues as part of democratic society.

  • To raise awareness of gender issues in Tajikistan and highlight the social problems encountered by girls and women.
  • To enhance the skills of 24 women journalists working for local radio stations and media, through creative collaboration with international producers.
  • To promote international best practise in covering women’s issues and offer local journalists exposure to outside experience.
  • To forge links between women journalists working in Tajikistan and the wider media community.
  • 3. Summary

    The project developed the professional skills of women journalists across Tajikistan. A total of 24 radio, newspaper and television journalists were trained in three locations: Khojand in northern Tajikistan, in the capital Dushanbe and in the remote mountainous region of Badakhshan eastern Tajikistan. Each group of women journalists produced a women’s issues radio programme or a newspaper front page on women’s issues. This was done in collaboration with international producers from the BBC in London. The focus was on gender issues in Tajkistan. Journalists covered topics such as: women’s rights under civil law, teenage marriage, maternal mortality, suicide rates amongst women, depression because of economic hardship, women as breadwinners in an ailing rural economy and Tajik émigré husbands returning from work in Russia with AIDS, or marrying again and not returning to Tajikistan at all.

    4. Activities

    Each five-day journalism training programme included discussion of women’s issues in Tajikistan, international best practise for journalists, based on the BBC model of accuracy, impartiality and balance. These principles were followed by practical exercises including interview technique, gathering vox-pops on the street, dealing with difficult interviewees and political restrictions on reporting.

    As part of producing a radio programme or newspaper front page on women’s issues, which was one of the goals of the week’s training, participants were given advice on script writing. The outputs of the training programme and each practical exercise were reviewed by the trainers who gave critical feedback and learning points for participants.

    Participants were also asked to write a Code of Conduct containing principles and good practise for journalists. This was for their own use but also to distribute to colleagues and as a reference for future journalists coming into the profession.

    Training took place in Russian, Tajik, Uzbek and Shugni (one of the six regional languages of Badakhshani Province).

    Email addresses were gathered or in some cases, opened for the first time, in order to enrol participants on the BBC World Service Trust i-learn journalism training course. This online modular course builds on what was learnt during the five day training seminar. It is in Russian. In future, it could be translated into Tajik.

    Feedback forms were completed after the end of each 5 day training course. Comments are translated into the English and included in the appendix to this report. A list of women’s issues discussed is also provided.

    A full training schedule is included in the appendix at the end of this report.

    5. Achievements

    At the end of the week’s training course, each group produced a 15 minute women’s radio programme or a mock front page of a newspaper they had created, to cover women’s issues.

    As well as producing a radio programme or newspaper front page, each group of participants wrote a Code of Conduct containing principles and good practise for journalists. This consolidated what was learnt in a form that can be passed on to colleagues, new journalists coming into the profession, or to those who were unable to attend the BBC/UNESCO course.

    At the end of the course, there was a sense of greater opportunity for the women trained to participate in or help others participate in wider society. This is particularly relevant for women from more remote communities or ethnic minority communities.

    An added achievement was a greater connection between women journalists of all ages and levels of experience. It is anticipated that this will lead to informal mentoring, increasing the impact and sustainability of the journalism training programme.

    Trust, balance and impartiality were totally new principles of journalism for the participants. Many openly admitted how they never balanced their reports and how editors imposed their views on what was broadcast or printed.

    The course achieved an awareness of impartial reporting, of the journalist being neutral, of the necessity to find out both sides of a story, rather than just representing one view. Some participants thought it normal to add their own personal view or to tell listeners what to do because they believed they had genuine authority and the right to do this. Another example was that of a reporter who went to a polling station to report on how the Parliamentary elections were going…..She returned and wrote her view that everything was going well. She didn’t interview voters, officials or election monitors. Nor did she understand why she should have done.

    The training courses demonstrated the value of accurate and balanced reporting. There were lots of practical exercises, so the trainers could assess whether principles discussed in the classroom, were fully understood and being put into practise when it came to real women’s issues reporting. It offered solutions for how journalists can deal with the pressure from ministers to report just one side of the argument. The groups also discussed what to do if they broadcast incorrect information and how to deal with government interference, for example, being told by a minister to apologise for broadcasting or printing information that was in fact true.

    Gradually, students were adopting a neutral stance, being more confident in their right to tell the truth and when interviewing, pushing for more accountability from those in authority. Whilst some students remain resistant to change, others were clearly inspired to set up new, more searching programmes about women’s issues.

    Initially, reporters said they rarely left their desks and liked to conduct interviews on the phone, with friends and family. By the end of the week, they were interviewing people face to face, and selecting contributors whom they do not know. This exercise was part of building up impartial sources and gathering new contacts, expanding their information network.

    Another key indicator of participants engagement in the project, was their lively and interactive behaviour. They kept challenging accepted opinion about reporting, asking how they could apply best practise, without losing their jobs or risk to their personal safety or future career prospects. Whilst this is obviously worrying, it was known at the outset of the project, that government restrictions severely limit journalist’s activities. So the trainers regarded such a proactive, determined stance from the participants, as a sign that they wanted to challenge accepted ways of doing things, but do so in a realistic, achievable way.

    At the end of each five day programme, the students produced a 15 minute women’s radio programme or the front page of a newspaper, dedicated to women’s issues. They devised a name and menu of contents for their programme or newspaper. Where relevant, they sourced theme music, recorded programme links, wrote scripts and edited interviews and discussions. The result was a lively mix of serious and lighter stories. They displayed a balance of rural and city issues. Interviewees and experts were of different ages, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Programmes and newspaper front pages were produced in Russian, Tajik and Uzbek and Shugni.

    Similarly, a Code of Conduct: advice and practical tips for journalists, was written by participants in Russian, Tajik and Uzbek.

    The wide ethnic and age range of participants was regarded as another achievement of the project.

    5.1. Positives

    All participants were able to come to the course even those who live out of the cities or in the remote mountain areas such as Badakhshan Province in eastern Tajikistan. One participant had to wait two days for the mountain road to reopen after heavy rains caused landslides and rockfalls. Another participant travelled for more than six hours from her village, to attend the course.

    Each training programme had a good mix of different age groups – from 18 years old to 50. Some of the younger participants showed much more ability than many supposedly senior, more experienced journalists. Another plus was the ethnic range of the women we trained. The groups included Russian speakers, Tajik speakers, minority Uzbeks and a varied range of Badakhshanis, who speak Roshani, Shugni and other regional dialects. It was good to see that the participants were drawn from rural, mountain and urban communities.

    There was significant official interest in the BBC/UNESCO course for women journalists. Two women officials arrived at the start of the course. Initially this was considered an obstacle to the training but fortunately, one official left after the first ten minutes, whilst the other stayed for the whole morning. Afterwards she said how much she’d enjoyed the course and that she had engaged as an individual, not an official. She thought the course material was so interesting and the principles of journalism (ie, BBC core values of accuracy, impartiality and balance) were so important, that she now wants more journalists to have the opportunity of training courses like the UNESCO/BBC course.

    At first some participants were reluctant to attend the course. They complained of too much NGO-funded training for journalists. After a short time, participants told us that the UNESCO/BBC offering was of much higher quality and usefulness than they are used to. The students said what they had learned with the programme could not be found elsewhere.

    They got engaged, both as individuals and as a group. With a bit of a push from the trainers, they put their new knowledge into practise almost immediately. It was noted how even experienced journalists were lacking in the basic rudiments of balanced, impartial reporting and rarely thought through the story or prepared interview questions before they set out.

    Despite logistical difficulties, such as airports being closed, flights cancelled or non existent and a 16 hour drive over unmade roads and through two rivers, melting snow and mudslides, the trainers also made it to three venues across Tajikistan! They felt strongly that geographical variety was important politically. Certain regions are given fewer resources by central government and the people living in them suffer from this underinvestment in their skills. This is particularly the case in the Badakhshan region. This is the only province in Tajikistan where the media is totally government controlled.

    5.2. Challenges

    The UNESCO/BBC journalism training for women faced a number of challenges: these included logistical problems, political interference from the authorities, lack of basic journalistic skills from participants as well as poor time management and organisational skills. Another prevalent factor with older participants, was rigidity in attitude and in certain cases, the refusal to do any work. This could be termed a ‘post Soviet mentality’. Another occasional issue, was cultural prejudice between participants.

    5.3. Logistical Problems

    It was difficult to find women journalists from remote areas and in even in the city, many women have abandoned professional careers such as medicine, teaching or journalism, to work in supermarkets or selling goods in the bazaar. This is because their salaries don’t cover the cost of feeding their families. Other journalists were refused permission by their bosses to attend the course. Whilst others, for financial reasons, hold down up to three jobs….some missed part of the course, as they tried to juggle these responsibilities.

    Other logistical problems included the lack of reliable equipment, lack of electricity, participants forgetting their recording equipment. It is clear for next time, that local equipment hire is not reliable and that everything should be brought from London.

    Students gave positive feedback after the first day, lamenting the absence of certain participants who said they were busy, fed up of taking NGO courses (Khojand group only) or were not allowed to attend by their bosses. The field of journalism training seems to be saturated in some areas, with some potential participants showing apathy towards ‘yet more training’.

    With no mobile telephones, few landlines and no electricity to power the internet, the course organisers had to rely on telegrams to recruit and communicate with the women journalists.

    5.4. Political Interference

    The week before the first training course in Khojand, the café being used as a training venue, was raided by the Tajik authorities. Officials insisted on new accreditation cards. They then turned up at the start of the course. This heightened sensitivity is a new trend and follows the recent political unrest in neighbouring countries in the region. During the course, several women were summoned by the authorities to work at the state broadcaster. This prevented some women from attending fully.

    Another political challenge was the government ban on Badakhshanis broadcasting in their own local languages. Whilst most journalists speak Tajik, they were more comfortable speaking in Shugni. Linguistic restrictions also silence the views of those who don’t speak the government approved Tajik. For the purposes of training and enhanced understanding of the goals of the course, training in Badakhshan was carried out mainly Shugni.

    5.5. Lack of Journalism Knowledge

    Despite some participants being experienced journalists, it was notable how none of them had even the most basic grasp of accuracy, balance and impartiality in reporting news or other events. Others had no idea how to prepare for an interview, nor how to establish the essential facts – what, why, when, where, how, who? – and distinguish these from personal opinion.

    This was all covered by the course and reinforced multiple times by the trainers.

    5.6. Time Management and Organisational Skills

    In preparing their 15-minute ‘as real’ women’s radio programme it became clear that the participants were not used to taking responsibility for their tasks and managing the time in which they had to do them. Encouraging creativity, individuality and originality was at times, like pulling teeth! We put this down to their educational experience where lessons were taught by rote and similarly, in their working lives, participants are used to men making all important decisions and as women, expect to do what they’re told.

    Some participants asked for handouts to save them taking notes or having to draw up their own Code of Conduct. This lack of drive was frustrating at times for the trainers but was overcome gradually, as participants realised they were expected to produce new work themselves. However, the quality of their participation, involvement in the learning process and ultimately the work they produced, was in the majority of cases, much improved.

    5.7. Post-Soviet Mentality

    It was notable how some of the older, more experienced journalists gave the worst performance. Some of them recycled stories they had done the year before, pretending that this was new work. When challenged, they made excuses about not feeling well or not having enough time to complete the task. This behaviour was particularly noticeable amongst newspaper journalists. Such rigidity of ideas and refusal to do any work, was a stark contrast to the progress and attitudes of the younger reporters.

    5.8. Cultural Prejudices

    Another cultural problem was the marginalising of younger reporters who expect the most interesting tasks to be given to older reporters. This is based on the age-authority relationship, rather than on ability. Uzbeks tended to be marginalised by the majority Tajiks. As did Tajik speakers when in a Russian-dominant group. The trainers went out of their way to reinforce the value of minority group individuals and find interpreters who spoke Russian, Tajik, Uzbek and Shugni. Handouts were printed in Russian and Tajik.

    5.9. Perceived Impact

    It was felt that the training course for women journalists made an impact in several ways, including greater journalistic skills, awareness of balance and impartiality, greater questioning of those in power in society and an enhanced respect between different ethnic or linguistic groups in Tajikistan.

    One participant in Dushanbe said this at the end of the training: ‘This is a revolution for us….you probably thought we were lazy and not energetic, but we just didn’t know you could work in this way!’

    Several participants said the training not only developed them as journalists, but as women. They said they regarded the two female trainers as role models of what women can achieve in society. They referred to professional skills, teaching methods not being patronising and the trainer’s energy to participate in civil society. Several students said they wanted to set up a women’s radio programme or a women’s publication. One participant is setting up a women-orientated NGO in Dushanbe. It would be interesting to follow this up.

    It is not yet known how much the training course improved skills on an ongoing basis. Without supervision it is possible that participants just carry on working as they did before. One or two women were quite stubborn. Others enthusiastically embraced the new techniques which were taught. The impact of this was immediately visible in their work. As part of making the training programme more sustainable, the trainers encouraged ongoing contact between the women in the hope that this will reinforce what was learnt.

    Another anticipated impact is the greater sense amongst women, that they can participate in civil society in Tajikistan. And that as professionals, they can question society and promote solutions to problems faced by citizens.

    6. Recommendations

    Nearly every participant said they would have liked a longer course or a follow up course in the future. This would enable trainers to monitor the quality of journalism in Tajikistan and to quantify progress made in terms of reporting restrictions, issues covered and whether participants were able to enhance their careers in journalism as a result of UNESCO’s investment.

    Some participants were genuinely inspired and wanted to set up a women’s programme on their radio stations. The trainers would have liked to be able to follow this through, giving the women journalists more advice in the run up to launching such a new venture.

    This report would particularly recommend further supporting the Pamir Mass Media Centre in Khorog, Badakhshan, in its aims to try to establish an independent radio station. The region is the only region in Tajikistan to have entirely state controlled media. One government newspaper in Ishkashim stopped printing last year because of a shortage of electricity supplies. Another is published once a month with a print run of a thousand copies. Few people can afford to buy it. Many more cannot access it either because of poor literacy skills or geographical remoteness.

    The place of radio in such communities shows its strength as a democratic medium accessible to both rich and poor, literate and illiterate. Television is increasingly popular in Tajikistan but is vulnerable as a medium because electricity is cut for up to six hours at a time and during the winter months, communities can find themselves without power for several months. This strengthens the argument for broadcast media to concentrate on the dissemination of information via the radio as it does not require electricity.

    The women’s journalism training programme found the level of ability was particularly poor in Badakshan and for certain individuals, the opportunity or even concept of reporting the truth impartially, was minimal. There is an opportunity here to develop much needed media capacity amongst both men and women. Ideally, further training should be done in conjunction with strengthening independent media in the region.

    Annex I : Participant Feedback

    What did you learn?

    • I have opened a new world for myself. I admit I’ve made many mistakes in my work but I have learned new, basic principles of journalism. I liked it when the theory was accompanied by practise. The lectures were accompanied by very good heated discussions….The trainers were kind to us their professionalism and the methods they used in the training were superb!
    • What we didn’t know before we now know about principles and practical aspects of journalism
    • I have learnt how to prepare properly and conduct an interview and do vox pops
    • I’ve learnt many important new things with a much deeper knowledge of journalism
    • I’ve learnt much more about women’s issues in Badakshan
    • Journalistic principles and practical advice
    • Journalistic principles and practical skills
    • I’ve learned how to express my thoughts in a concise way
    • I can surely say my opinion about the way to make good radio has completely changed.’
    • Principles of journalism and how to prepare an interview
    • I learned how to make a balanced report and always to ask short questions
    • We learned the principles of journalism, how to prepare for an interview and how to do vox pops
    • We learnt a lot! Interviews, vox pops and how to write a newspaper article
    • In the course of this training programme, we learned vox pops, interview technique etc.
    • Learning the importance of balance in our reports
    • We learned principles of journalism and how to do vox pops and how to prepare a radio programme.
    • How to organise a discussion and principles of journalism
    • I’ve learnt new methods to do vox pops, principles etc

    What training methods were used?

    • We shared our views with each other
    • Practical methods
    • Interactive, individual, and work in small groups
    • Playing games, discussions
    • Small lectures and work in groups
    • The training was mostly practical
    • Playing methods, theoretical and practise methods were used
    • Conversation and discussion
    • Practical and theoretical
    • We learned the methods used by the BBC and in future we will work to these values
    • The trainers used interactive methods, discussions and brainstorming
    • Discussions
    • Discussions and interactive exercises
    • Conversation and discussion

    What did you like best about the course?

    · ‘I liked everything especially in the improvisation. Everything was done to such a high level. It is obvious that Rachel and Luiza are total professionals’

    · ‘I liked the energy of the trainers and the way they worked together….and the way they explained the much needed information.’

    · ‘I felt free to speak in whatever language I wanted’

    · ‘I liked the teachers who spoke to us clearly….and I liked being with the other journalists’

    · ‘Three languages were used on the course….I think your training was excellent’

    · ‘The trainers are so good….good luck!’

    · ‘The trainers….both trainers were really clear. It changed my thinking about women’s issues’

    · ‘Everyday, we recapped what we learned the previous day. I liked the game with the ball’

    · ‘Interractive methods which were very very interesting. The trainers gave us a chance to express our views whilst we were learning. We listened and were listened to….we gave and we took. There was practical work, Rachel’s pictures on the whiteboard….I liked the revision of topics best and the highly qualified knowledge of the trainers who had a very good relationship with us. They were not like ‘officials’ but on the same level of us. They treated us as equals’

    · ‘I didn’t like the work of one of the translators (DUSHANBE COURSE ONLY WHERE INTERPRETER WAS CHANGED AFTER TWO DAYS) which resulted in one of the trainers having to retranslate everything.’

    · ‘The selection of participants, the trainers and and topics’

    · ‘The trainers created a very warm, kind and open atmosphere with an informal level of communication’

    · ‘I liked analysing our role as journalists with the trainers and other participants’

    · ‘The thing I liked best was the way the trainers related to us because when they talked to us, we didn’t feel they were talking down to us. They created a relaxed atmosphere. They tried their best to give us their knowledge and experience.’

    · ‘What I liked most was that we weren’t just taught theory, but practical tasks’

    · ‘I liked the teachers and really enjoyed the lessons’

    · ‘We liked their teaching methods and we began to speak and write our materials in a new way and we will be able to share our new skills with other journalists’

    · ‘Most of all, I liked the practical aspects and learning about balance / neutrality!’

    · ‘Most of all we learned about BBC principles of journalism’

    · ‘We liked the trainers best and their methods’

    · ‘We liked the trainers best and their methods’

    What didn’t you like?

    · ‘I liked every part of the seminar’

    · ‘Course was too short.’

    · ‘In my view, 5 days training course is too little to capture so much information. I felt very tired during the listening and feedback sessions’

    · ‘The shortage of computers and equipment’

    · ‘I liked the way the trainers paid attention to the way our stories were written’

    · ‘I liked everything’

    · ‘We liked everything’

    · ‘We liked everything about the course’

    · ‘I enjoyed everything!’

    · ‘I liked everything’

    · ‘Five days training wasn’t long enough’

    · ‘Liked everything’

    · ‘I wasn’t able to attend the whole course’

    · ‘No criticisms’

    · ‘Some of the participants were lazy’

    How could the training course be improved for next time?

    · ‘I think the trainers know best because they are highly polished professionals’

    · ‘I would like another seminar like this one’

    · ‘All the ideas were very good’

    · ‘I will use all the principles in my future work’

    · ‘Teach us more new things so we can learn from you’

    · ‘More equipment to do our work’

    · ‘I didn’t like the fact that some of the participants in the group didn’t accept criticism’

    · ‘I would have liked there to be more emphasis on newspaper journalism as well as radio journalism.’

    · ‘To use more playing methods which help us memorise what we’ve learnt’

    · ‘It would be better if there were examples of radio programmes or newspapers to show to us.’

    · ‘Every day of training was very valuable for us and we would like to have more opportunities to learn like this.’

    · ‘Everything was great, we would like to do more training with you.’

    · ‘I would like to do more training like this!’

    · ‘Of course to learn more’

    · ‘The trainers played the most important part of the course and I can truly say we had the best trainers’

    · ‘Holding training in other countries in order to learn more from each other’

    · ‘I would like a continuation of this training’

    · ‘I’ll use everything I have learnt and I will write it in my newspaper’

    How will you use what you have learned from the training course?

    · ‘I will use everything I have learned on this course because everything that was said, changed my view and everything I had previously thought about the principles of good journalism’

    · As a result of this training, I’m sure that I will start a new programme on Asia Plus Radio about women’s issues. We’ll use the things we learned in the training such as balance, use of vox pops, and expert interviews.

    · ‘I would be happy to pass this knowledge to other journalists who really need to improve their knowledge’

    · ‘I’ll apply this knowledge when I write articles for my newspaper. I’ll have more discussion in my pieces’

    · ‘I am very happy to come to your seminar and the quality was very good’

    · ‘I will do my best to use what I have learned. I will change myself as a journalist and I will change many things in my programmes.’

    · ‘I will apply what I’ve learnt and pass it on to new colleagues and also to the people I interview in the Dushanbe Parliament.’

    · ‘I think the training was very effective. As a journalist I will try to follow all the principles I learnt at the seminar and I will try to pass this knowledge on to others.’

    · Journalistic principles and using the right interview techniques and making sure we are balanced and keeping the interest of the listener or reader. We also learned how to improve our skills as journalists’

    · ‘First of all, I’ll pass my knowledge on to younger journalists and I will apply my new knowledge in practise.

    · I will use what I’ve learned in my programmes’

    · ‘I will use the principles and learning methods in my work’

    · ‘What we learned from you, I think it will help me 100% in my future career. Thank you, I’m very glad!’

    · ‘I’m sure what we learned from you will help us in our future careers’

    · ‘I think the training will be useful in my everyday practise as a journalist.’

    · ‘I will use these methods the way I learned them from my trainers because they taught us many useful things about how to cover women’s issues’

    · ‘I would like more training and I will use these methods in my future work’

    · ‘Your seminar will be very good for my future career’

    Permanent link: http://en.unesco.kz/unesco-bbc-ipdc-project-report-improving-media-coverage-of-gender-issues-in-tajikistan