By: Hamilton B. Greene
The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has held a three-day training workshop for journalists on Natural Resource Management Reporting. The Workshop which was held from the 22nd to the 24th of February brought together Nine (9) journalists from various media institutions and was facilitated by Mr. Gerald Dan Yeakula, CENTAL Program Manager and Atty. Norris Tweah, CENTAL Media Consultant and a long standing media expert.
During the opening ceremony, the Acting Executive Director of CENTAL, Mr. Anderson D. Miamen cautioned journalists to take the training seriously, asserting that it was intended to improve their knowledge of the Natural Resource Sector which would in turn improve the level of transparency within the sector. He further stated that it is an avenue via which journalists could become professional reporters in a specific field as is being done by other world renowned media corporations, stating that vast knowledge in a particular field could lead one to becoming an expert reporter in said field.
Speaking at the occasion, Madam Maureen Sieh, Journalism Advisor of Internews encouraged journalists to take advantage of such opportunities as they arise. Appearing alongside her colleague Madam Ozioma Zayzay, she resounded Internews’ commitment to working with CENTAL and media institutions to develop the media landscape. Internews funds this media development project.
During the training, the first presenter, Mr. Yeakula provided an overview of the Natural Resource Management Sector covering the pre-war and post-war situations confronting this sector. He stressed the existence of numerous irregularities associated with the granting of concessions dating as far back a 1926 and urged journalists to take up the task of investigating some of these issues so as to ensure transparency and accountability. There were series of instances cited in this regard, ranging from the violation of laws to the issue of land grab by concession companies like Sime Darby, Golden Veroleum and China Union. The issue of crrouption and bad labor practices was also highlighted as a major challenge within this sector as wild allegations of corruption, coupled with concessions companies not living up to the Mineral Development Agreements, something which has sparked numerous protests that often end in violence within concession areas. Given Liberia’s dependence on the natural resources sector, the need for increased transparency within the sector cannot be overly emphasized. Participating journalists were given the task of unearthing stories concerning resource exploitation.
For his part Atty. Norris Tweah made several presentations over the three-day period, educating journalists on the importance of in-depth journalistic reporting. A case study to this effect was provided and the investigation of the Union Carbide disaster in India was cited as an ideal example of good in-depth journalistic reporting. Journalists were taught to get the right story and how to do everything possible to talk to the right source in order to report from an evidence based perspective. "When you see something, say something" averred Mr. Tweah, as he educated participating journalist on how to report news stories they are confronted with on a daily basis.
The training also emphasized the importance of new media or social media reporting in contemporary journalism. Participants were taught the techniques in using the social media platform to convey news stories, as different platforms have different audiences and a specific way of conveying messages to these audiences. Twitter for example, uses less amount of characters and requires you to be concise with your message. Understanding the extensive growth in social media users, journalists were asked to see the platform as a means of combating corruption in the natural resources management sector by investigating and using the platform for reporting purposes.
In a related development, participating journalists are expected to go for a sight seeing visit to the China Union concession area for practical experience. The visit is intended to broaden their understanding issues within the concession area as well as to investigate perceived malpractices to help boost the transparency and advocate where necessary.
For their part, journalists attending the training lauded CENTAL for such an initiative and pledged to utilize education gained on the natural resource sector. They recognized the need for putting a spotlight on the sector and vowed to do their best in covering issues related to natural resources.