"Our vision that everyone should have the right to an honest and factual account of what is really happening in the world is of paramount importance in combating fake news and hate speech," wrote Lord Tom Chandos, chairman, Thomson Foundation in its latest annual review.
Latest figures from Thomson Foundation show the impact that a network of more than 100 journalism experts can have in limited press freedom regions, such as the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
More than 5,500 registered users from close to 160 countries have received journalistic training, including some of those most in-need like Sudan, ranked 175th out of 180 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Helen Scott, editorial associate, Thomson Foundation, has overseen the five-year Sudan Media Capacity Building Project, in partnership with the British Council and funded by the British Embassy, which has benefitted more than 700 people. This covered essential skills like publishing on web, print, radio and TV platforms, but also focused on mobile journalism.
The report details an example of the project in action. Three journalists who trained under the programme, Rania Haroun, Salah Nasser and Wael Jamal Addeen, went onto creating citizen journalism workshops where they passed on their knowledge to participants.
Putting their new-found smartphone skills into practice, local reporters were then able to capture footage of uprisings in Sudan and upload it onto social media, predominantly Twitter. It has since caught the attention of international media and enabled Sudanese journalists to tell their own stories.
"The project was successful because it worked with, but not for, the authorities. We were very careful not to train journalists to confront unnecessarily. We had an editorial board which gave us guidance and we have been the only organisation which has been working with the media in Sudan in such a sustained way. We trained in the international pillars of journalism – fairness, balance, multiple sources, and talking to ‘real people’ not just accepting official handouts," Scott explained.
It also helped to shape research and stories on pressing community matters, such as health, education and environment.
It is a good start for a media environment restricted by a complete absence of freedom of expression, Scott explains, but there is more work ahead for a country where journalists are continuing to face arrests and arbitrary detention by the National Intelligence and Security Service for political coverage.
As there is little or no formal training structures for new entrants, she explains the media sector remains under-skilled. As a result, professional journalists are scarce, meaning objective and relevant reporting is a challenge for many Sudanese newspapers.
In addition to this, Scott indicates there is poor management of media outlets, varied levels of resourcing and quality of facilities across outlets, and media content that is not adapted to the needs of Sudanese audiences as key challenges for the media landscape.
Reporting has been traditionally done from neighbouring regions, like Kenya, meaning information has been hard to come by and equally difficult to trust.
However, Scott said there are new possibilities now Sudanese journalists are operating with the right level of skills in their back pocket.
"They know the stories, the people and they have an enormous will to be able to report at last on their country. Some journalists who have been in exile because they had been banned by the security forces returned this week.
"We are hopeful that, with the will of the people for self-determination, there will be a new media environment in which freedom of expression will, at last, be possible. At Thomson Foundation, we’re looking forward to playing our part in continuing to support the media in the future," Scott concluded.
Note: A previous version of this story reported that 700 people benefitted from one workshop, however 700 is the overall number of participants in the Sudan Media Capacity Building Project.
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