October 8, 2012

Course for journalists sought to improve impartial presidential election coverage in Venezuela

Before the elections on Sunday, Oct. 7, granted Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez six more years in office, dozens of journalists participated in an online course and in-person workshop on election coverage offered by the Carter Center’s Program to Strengthen Journalism in Venezuela and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The Spanish-language online course, offered by the Carter Center, between May 12 and June 9, 2012, was led by Peruvian journalist Jacqueline Fowks via the Knight Center’s distance learning platform. Besides reviewing keys sections of the election law, the course allowed Venezuelan journalists of diverse political affiliations and media to share their opinions and concerns about the challenges of covering elections. Following several elections characterized by intense political polarization, the course sought to improve objectivity and balance in the practice of journalism.

“The course was an opportunity for journalists from different cities to have a virtual — and then a personal — contact and experience with other colleagues. Most of them started a new professional link with colleagues and they were able to keep in touch during the campaign, to verify or share information, to help each other in general,” Fowks said. “Most of them noticed during the course the key role that journalism can play in Venezuelan electoral campaigns. Venezuelan society is so polarized — cut in two halves — that an equable press, a press with a will for dialogue — and not only attack — could have made a difference for voters who needed information to make a decision.”

The course included online sessions with audiovisual presentations, exercises and debates, along with an in-person workshop organized by the Carter Center and directed by Fowks in the cities of Maracaibo, Zulia, and Barcelona, Anzoátegui. The discussions addressed a range of topics from how to balance sources in reporting and covering the Colombian-Venezuelan frontier, but the majority of the course focused on the dilemmas and challenges that journalists face while covering elections.

“Thanks to the participation of journalists from across the media spectrum in Venezuela, the conversations that arose were very useful and enriching,” said Héctor Vanolli, director of the Carter Center in Venezuela. “The online courses and the in-person workshops opened a unique opportunity to stimulate debate about critical themes linked to the practice of the profession in the country.”

This is the second time the Carter Center and the Knight Center have joined forced to offer special training designed for Venezuelan journalists during an election. The first online course on this topic was taught in June 2010. Colombian journalist María Teresa Ronderos led the class, which culminated in a live workshop in Caracas, the capital. For more information on the Program to Strengthen Journalism in Venezuela, please contact Griselda Colina via e-mail at programaperiodistas@gmail.com.

The first time this course was offered, the Knight Center made its distance learning platform available to the Carter Center. The Knight Center, a pioneer in distance learning for journalists, has trained 7,000 individuals through its online programs.

A recent study by the Knight Foundation demonstrated the effectiveness of Knight Center online courses. According to a survey of 660 people that received training funded by the Knight Foundation during the last two years, more than 97 percent of respondents reported using the digital skills they acquired from their Knight Center class.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created by professor Rosental Alves, of the Journalism School at the University of Texas at Austin, in August 2002, thanks to a generous donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Center also receives contributions from other donors, including the Open Society Foundation and the University of Texas at Austin. The objective of the Center is to help journalists in Latin America and Caribbean interested in improving the quality of journalism in their countries.