By Lindsay Boyle
On Monday, July 30, the seventh International Mass Media summer course was held in Copeland Hall at the Ohio University campus. During each class, two SUSI scholars give a lecture about their own country’s media systems, journalism practices and political cultures. All of the lectures are streamed live through Ohio University distance learning and are available online to 35 students who are taking a summer class instructed by Dr. Brook Beshah.
The SUSI summer institute — in which scholars from all over the world come to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at OU to study journalism and media — is funded by an annual renewable grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs.
Prof. Trang Nguyen
At the beginning of her presentation, SUSI scholar Trang Nguyen described her academic and professional background. She then spoke about her university, the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, which was established in 1956.
Afterward, Nguyen transitioned to an overview of Vietnam. The country has a population of 91 million with 64 ethnic groups and several different religions, including Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and Cao Dai.
In Vietnam, the Communist Party of Vietnam is the sole political party, Nguyen explained. She said that the theory of the state is synonymous with that of the media, further elaborating that, since the 1980s, the press has served primarily as the voice of the government. However, media are also used as public forums for the opinions of society.
According to Nguyen, journalists’ duties are to report news about the party and the state, and to reflect on social issues. However, they are licensed by the government and enact self-censorship so they do not go against the party. Those who do go against the party can face governmental penalties. Investigative journalism is limited in Vietnam, Nguyen explained.
There are no private-owned news organizations in Vietnam — they are all registered under ownership of state-related organizations. Though media companies operate mostly by themselves, Nguyen said the news production portion is an exception because the government controls it. Despite that, she said that many people seem genuinely happy with the government, and that there are no strong oppositional movements.
SUSI scholar Dr. Huei Lan Wang asks scholar Trang Nguyen a question during her lecture that is streamed live through OU distance learning, and is available online.
In 2010, Nguyen said there were more than 700 newspapers and magazines, 76 radio and TV stations, 21 online sites, and 160 newspaper-related sites. There were about 17,000 licensed journalists in Vietnam at that time. The papers have many different targets, and the radio programs are often aired in multiple languages. Additionally, Vietnamese are able to freely watch international programming.
Vietnam has a large number of Internet users and continues to gain more, according to Nguyen. Blogs and social networks are popular among the young, as 55 percent of users 15-25 have at least one of the two. The mobile 3G network does not yet have much penetration, though — about 15 percent of the population uses it.
Nguyen explained that, in Vietnam, social media are emerging as a way to both provide new information and to spread already existing information provided by traditional media.
According to Nguyen, efforts to make new laws suggest that media reformations are developing. However, the media is still quite restricted, and she said the more pressing question is how to fit new technology and media into such a restricted system. Currently, penalties for those who publish things deemed inappropriate by the government also apply to Internet users, as the Internet is closely monitored.
Prof. Alexandre Twizeyumukiza
Rwandan scholar Alexandre Twizeyumukiza first described his institution, the Catholic Institute of Kabgazi, which was established in 2002 and has three main faculties.
He then described his country, Rwanda, which is located in East Africa, has a population of 11 million and has primary languages of Kinyarwanda, French and English. He gave a brief history of the country as well, which he said consists of four main periods: before colonization, 1900 to 1990, 1990 to 1994, and 1994 to the present.
The period of 1900 to 1960 was a time marked by the creation of schools, as well as the creation of newspapers that encouraged independence and battled resistance. Twizeyumukiza explained that, in 1961, Rwanda gained independence, and Gregoire Kayibanda, who had been the editor of the very first paper in Rwanda, became president.
Though it was hoped that he would promote Rwandan press because he was a former editor, that was not the case. According to Twizeyumukiza, Kayibanda believed that papers that were negative toward the government would sabotage development. Some papers were even undermined.
Then, in 1990, a rebel force called the Rwandan Patriotic Front — consisting primarily of members of the Tutsi ethnic group — invaded the government, starting a three-year-long civil war. At its end, a multiparty system was established, though Hutu Juvenal Habyarimana remained the president.
In 1994, however, Habyarimana was assassinated. That, combined with the Hutus’ use of the media as a way to portray Tutsis and moderate Hutus as enemies, fueled the genocide that occurred in 1994.
Immediately following the genocide, Twizeyumukiza said Rwandan journalism faced many difficulties. First, there was a lack of resources and materials. Additionally, he explained that many journalists lost their lives, fled, or were jailed during the course of the genocide. Further, because the press had played a large role in the genocide, there was a general distrust of the media among the population.
SUSI scholar Alexandre Twizeyumukiza presents a lecture that is streamed live through OU distance learning, and is available online.
Media today still work to specifically denounce divisionism ideologies and promote reconstruction and development in Rwanda, according to Twizeyumukiza. Currently, Rwanda has one government-owned TV station and 31 privately owned radio stations.
Twizeyumukiza said that there are several positive things about journalism in Rwanda. First, a transparent law that journalists contributed to is what governs the media. Many articles of that law emphasize human rights and media independence, according to Twizeyumukiza.
Second, he explained that several regulatory bodies ensure that journalism operates within the framework set by the law. Also, training sessions that are meant to ensure compliance occur often.
Twizeyumukiza said he finds positivity in the fact that the number of Rwandan papers is steadily increasing, and that those papers are eager to play a role in rebuilding and strengthening social ties. Online media is also increasing. Finally, he said it is encouraging that there are three different schools of journalism in Rwanda.
Regardless, Twizeyumukiza also recognized many challenges that still face Rwandan media. Journalists often receive low salaries and have little professional training, some journalists are susceptible to corruption, and there is a lack of adequate equipment, a lack of access to information, and a lack of investigative journalism. Perhaps as a result, professional journalists rarely come to Rwanda.
Additionally, Rwandan audiences tend to prefer audio and visual content over print material, so they do not often read papers. Many Rwandans do not spend much time analyzing their news, and prefer sensational news to hard news.
In conclusion, Twizeyumukiza said that, although media freedom is a long process, some efforts have definitely been made. At this point, the most important step is for journalists to unite, according to him. “Nobody will free the media apart from journalists themselves,” he said.
Friday, August 10, 2012
By Lindsay Boyle