Working Towards Better Journalism in Laos

Reporters and IMCT staff at a group discussion during “Online Journalism and Storytelling Training” organized by Fojo Media Institute and IMCT
Reporters and IMCT staff at a group discussion during “Online Journalism and Storytelling Training” organized by Fojo Media Institute and IMCT

In late November 2018, after two years of work with Laos partner the Institution for Mass Media Culture and Tourism (IMCT), Fojo organised the first training in Laos. The 4-day course was focused on “Online Journalism and Storytelling”.

 

It was a striking view to see 13 women journalists out of 20 participants in total. Among them, 8 participants were media trainers and organisers from Fojo’s partner IMCT. The rest of 12 reporters are from eight well-known media houses in Laos, such as Laos National TV, Laos National Radio, Prasasong News, Vientiane Times, Women Union press section, Prathay Laos News Agency, Trade News and Vientiane Mai. The participants’ experiences varied from two to twenty years at work.

Out of 12 reporters, only 2 claimed to have received professional journalism trainings in Vietnam. The rest found themselves in media by circumstances or accident. They had degrees in different subjects and landed a job in media field. Mingkeo Chanthavongsy, a reporter from Laos National TV, graduated from Law school 18 years ago. Not long after she was looking for a job, she sat on an exam for journalist and passed. It was the same experience for Chanthasone Syhanath, a reporter form Laos National Radio. Chantha graduated in Business Administration 15 years ago. They both grew in their job not just professionally but whole-heartedly as well. They learnt to love their job, and now they want to continue working as journalists.

Mingkeo Chanthavongsy, a reporter from Laos National TV, shared her experience of becoming a journalist
Mingkeo Chanthavongsy, a reporter from Laos National TV, shared her experience of becoming a journalist

 

It struck us to learn how little resources those reporters/media trainers had to perform their daily tasks. Majority of them do not have an email address; every morning they had to come to the office to take assignment from their bosses. Unlike other parts of the world, they didn’t work on their specific news beats, but being assigned by their chiefs. Even joining Fojo’s training, was by assigned by their station chiefs.

But, most of them had a smartphone and have at least one social media account such as WhatsApp or Facebook, through which they reached out to their news sources as part of work-related communication.

Despite the little they had, the enthusiasm and energy they brought into the workshop was extraordinary. Their sense of curiosity and their eagerness to learn was so inspiring. The trainer, Johana Son, later said, “I found the workshop energizing, mainly because it was a two-way process of exchanging insights and learning. I was very attuned to finding out, from the participants themselves, how they did journalism in their context, and at the same time, showing them the creative, available options in a wide-ranging information buffet available to us as storytellers in today’s unavoidable mix if local-global context.”

She added, “The participants, journalists and local trainers’ sense of curiosity to understand the changing media and information environment, and eagerness to find their way through led me to think, throughout the day as well as after each day, of what their reactions and questions, pointed to in terms of what might be useful for them, even if we could not cover all in the four-day workshop.”

Reporters from Laos National TV, Prasasong News, Vientiane Times, Women Union press section, Prathay Laos News Agency, and Trade News, at Online Journalism and Storytelling Training organized by Fojo Media Institute and IMCT
Reporters from Laos National TV, Prasasong News, Vientiane Times, Women Union press section, Prathay Laos News Agency, and Trade News, at Online Journalism and Storytelling Training organized by Fojo Media Institute and IMCT

 

Remaining a communist country, Laos Government maintains a strict control over media in the country. All media outlets, including prints and broadcasts are owned by government. However, according to Reporters Without Borders, the internet in Laos is not restricted. There is only one journalist association, and it’s under supervision of Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism.

From 2004, Journalism was one of the subjects within Faculty of Laos Language in Laos National University. From 2016 a Media Department was established, for which, most of course materials were said to be translated from Vietnam; majority of trainers also came from Vietnam.

Having said that, IMCT has played an important role in providing capacity trainings for midcareer journalists. However, the institution receives only 15,000 USD per annum from Laos government to organise courses nationwide. This budget is not efficient to provide training demands for over 2,000 working journalists in Laos. There is only one training room at IMCT office without any training equipment. Annually, IMCT organises 20 courses, most of them funded by Vietnam Journalist Association (VJA).

 

It took 2 years for Fojo to lay the trust-worthy ground in Laos to work with IMCT. As the very first project support, Fojo provided the internet connection for IMCT office, which was installed in November 2018. In March 2019, Fojo provided sequential supports of 6 smartphone and two laptops; and 6 tripods in June 2019.

In terms of knowledge and learning support, throughout 2017 and 2018, 10 staff members of IMCT participated in 5 capacity building courses provided by Fojo, and 5 members joined observation trips for Collaborative Bidding Process (CBP), thematic journalism trainings organised by other project partners in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Capacity building courses included gender, training need assessment, online and field safety, training of trainers (TOT), and smartphone reporting course.

Vilaythong Sixanonh, General Director of IMCT told Fojo staff, “Fojo is the first organisation that provide a chained-support, in term of technical as well as capacity building and equipment. As a result, IMCT staff have used this equipment and applied knowledge in our trainings. It has been more effective in our current trainings. IMCT and Laos government are very grateful for the support.”

 

Understanding the trend of media and information in Laos, IMCT requested Fojo’s assistance in creating a new Online News Guidebook. The activity is going to be carried out in the second semester of the 2019. Along with the creation of the guidebook, a series of in-house trainings for IMCT members will be followed. These trainings will be focused on training Lao journalists for reporting online news by using the new guidebook.

With this awareness, IMCT also realises the needs to improve their existing training programs. Vilaythong has requested “expert integration” in IMCT’s future trainings, to have a relevant expert trainer to share part of their initial sessions, and to observe their trainings for feedbacks on IMCT’s training designs.

Laos also need a new pool of media trainers. Currently, there are only 3 very senior trainers working in IMCT. If the training is sponsored by Vietnamese Journalist Association (VJA), Vietnamese trainers are brought to teach. In some trainings, editors from different media houses in Laos are invited as trainers; most of them are also graduated from Vietnam.

They need new dynamic group of trainers with open mindedness and ready to take the lead when the county is open up to digital transformation. As of June 2019, IMCT’s senior trainers are planning to nurture their younger staff members to be future trainers of IMCT. However, this task could probably happen beyond SEAMTN project.

Edited by Nai Nai