Professional Education For Media

By Dr. I. Arul Aram

For the world to be a happier place for all, we need to develop more open and inclusive information societies. This depends on the capabilities of those who work in media. Realising the challenge, JourNet was formed under UNESCO's auspices to network media schools. The JourNet International Conference on Professional Education for Media was in Newcastle, Australia, from February 16 to 19, 2004. (Newcastle is a beachside city known for surfing, sailing, skydiving and dolphin watch cruises.) The conference attracted some of the world's leading media experts.

Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General, UNESCO, said media should promote mutual understanding and tolerance. It should facilitate free exchange of knowledge and serve as a platform of dialogue for diverse groups.

Chen Peiqin said bilingual journalism teaching in Chinese universities combined Chinese and Western concepts. The increase in English media (particularly websites) called for journalists who could work in both English and Chinese. Those undergoing such a programme could work overseas as well.

Janne Bang Nielsen argued that qualified journalists often could not work together as a group. The modern journalist must be a team builder and team player. The notion of the journalist as just a writer was narrow. Instead of acting as a lone ranger, the journalist had to learn different actors' perspectives and tasks. Considering the convergence of media (in formats and professional practices), media educators should redesign syllabi.

Violet Valdez presented an overview of an online M.A. programme in Journalism from Manila. This e-learning programme gave journalists in the Asia-Pacific region access to high standard of education from their home or office computers, anytime.

Romy Froehlich said the high percentage of women who graduated in journalism and the rising share of women entering the profession during the past few decades had had least impact on the number of women in senior positions. The image of female journalists as "better communicators" was a dangerous myth that might hinder women's career in journalism. Transferring mothering role from home to workplace led to a "friendliness trap" that made women lack assertiveness.

Tanja Dreher said that while journalism had a long tradition of informing citizens and defending democracy, the discussion of journalists' responsibility in a multicultural context remained underdeveloped. `Indifference to difference' had been a value in Australian journalism and this needed to be challenged. Journalists should be more sensitive towards aborigine issues. Journalists and journalism educators must reflect critically on this.

Kathryn Bice of The Sydney Morning Herald said the newspaper recruitment process emphasised on taking in minority groups like Arabs and those from backward areas, so as to ensure that a multicultural diversity was reflected in the newsroom.

Ruediger Claus talked about a digital photography course offered free by the International Institute for Journalism in Germany. A photographer of today had to do more jobs than just clicking a picture. S/he should have knowledge of transferring photographs into a computer, digitally improving photos, cropping photos, writing captions, distributing photos and archiving photos.

Taking cue from the Noelle-Neumann's spiral of silence model, my paper discussed how the Internet was redefining media. According to the model, some people might find their views losing ground; such people might not openly express deviant opinion and/or change from deviant to dominant opinion. But the Internet went a step further by allowing groups neglected by media to air their views - it could be done by initiating an e-group or creating a website. Thus the Internet helped contain the `spiral of silence' to some extent.

Chatting during the conference dinner in wine countryside, JourNet president Frank Morgan (of Newcastle University) said media people must be more professional. An instance where media had got it completely wrong was that it painted a wrong picture that Australians were mostly Republican. "But we are not; we love monarchy." (And adds humourously) "Monarchy is good. It is better to put the blame on someone when something goes wrong!"

The British Council, Chennai, funded my trip to the conference at the request of Pieter Wessells of the Commonwealth Journalists' Association. CJA is an association of journalists, and it organises training programmes on journalistic skills throughout the Commonwealth. To sign off, Australians have a special liking for India as many of their ancestors had served in India during the British rule.

(The writer is Chief Sub-Editor with The Hindu, Chennai)

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