News / Africa

African Journalists Study US Media Freedoms

Ntaryike Divine Jr.

In September, a State Department program brought a group of African journalists to the United States to study journalistic principles and practices.  Among other things, we studied the rights involved in reporting, including freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

There were 16 of us from 15 African countries, invited by the US Government to learn more about the mechanics and evolution of journalism and especially investigative reporting. 

Over three weeks, we rubbed shoulders with top investigative reporters, visited renowned journalism schools and organizations as well as heard presentations on the far-reaching liberties enjoyed and applied by our U.S. counterparts.

Upon finishing the tour,  my colleagues and I agreed the United States’ free and independent media have been fundamental in sustaining democracy and governance. We also agreed there’s a lot to emulate for Africa, where governments often silence and crush critical news media. 

We were among some 5,000 foreign nationals from diverse walks of life to visit the US this year to as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, or ILVP.  It was launched 70 years ago to address inaccurate views of the United States around the world. 

Participants are chosen by US diplomatic missions overseas. So far, more than 200,000 foreign nationals, including current and former heads of state and government, have taken part in studying some of the rights involved in reporting.  Among those rights -- freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
 
Christopher McShane is the Africa Branch bureau chief at the State Department.  He previously worked as a foreign service officer in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain.  

"Visitors who come back from the program," he said, "understand the US better and are able to explain the US to people in their countries in an unfiltered way. It’s one thing to have an embassy spokesperson talking about the US and US policy.  It’s a different thing to have somebody from that country speak about the US from firsthand experience."

When the leadership program, IVLP, was created, it was designed not only to reshape global opinion about the United States, but also to help participants to improve professionally. 

Marilyn Saks-McMillion is a specialist in programming with the Washington, DC-based World Learning, a nonprofit private agency partnering with the State Department on the program.  She mentioned two visitors she worked with in 2005.

"One has gone on to win a Nobel Peace Prize and one is now the president of Moldova. There’re many others who’ve gone back home in their fields – whether its journalism or education or healthcare – to do wonderful things," she said.

Cynics call the IVLP a propaganda effort aimed at misleading visitors. But Saks-McMillion says such claims are baseless.

"That’s not the intention of the program," she said.  "What’s in it for the American people is having more people who understand and who may not necessarily agree with us, people with a more nuanced understanding of American people and policies and I think an understanding of the distinction between the American government and the American people."

Critics of the recent anti-American protests in the Islamic world would agree with her. The demonstrations were ignited by the circulation on the Internet of a provocative video entitled “Innocence of Muslims.” The short film, which mocks Islam, was not produced by the US government, but by a private citizen living in California. 

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, including unpopular opinions and criticism of religion.  In a speech in September at a meeting of the UN General Assembly, President Obama said the video was repugnant, but that it did not excuse the killing of Innocents or an attack on an embassy.

Nevertheless, the short film led to attacks on foreign diplomatic missions and to the death in Libya of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

According to US officials, the attacks have emphasized the need for a better understanding of the United States.

"That’s true," she said. "I think if you keep in mind that only 5,000 people a year come on the program from all over the world, their role as people who can help explain the US to people back in their countries is really quite small especially when you have other voices locally that may be much louder and more frequent."

"Obviously, there’re great challenges to overcome.  Certainly, there’s a long way to go.  But the IVLP is a force in making people understand the US better."

The 16 African participants in the program in August agree that it’s a tool for helping people understand the United States -- and that will help them become better journalists.

Listen to report on Africa press trip to the US
Listen to report on Africa press trip to the USi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: DeAnna DeBry from: Salt Lake City Utah
November 21, 2012 12:58 PM
My husband and I have been involved with the ILVP for 20 years now as home hospitality hosts. We have had people from all over the world visit our city to learn more about their particular specialities -- education, government, NGOs, diversity -- and we feel it an honor to meet people who want to make their countries better. Cynics may call this 'propaganda' but I see it as a way to break down artificial barriers between nations caused by lies, distortions and hearsay. For the 3 weeks the visitors are in the US, they are given many opportunities to see that a lot of things work in our country, but some things don't. They are free to pick and choose from each lecture, each tour, each meeting. They can then go back to their countries and implement what they think will work for them. This is real diplomacy in action.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs