Fojo’s work in Bangladesh was affected “in every way possible” by the pandemic according to programme manager, Anna Maris.
Those working on the joint project between the local Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) and Fojo had to make the rapid move to digital working in order to continue their activities.
This included finding new ways to deliver training courses and mentorship programmes which had already been planned.
It also involved the running of the Investigative Journalism Partnership, an MRDI/Fojo initiative which enables Bangladeshi editors and journalists to connect with domestic and international experts in order to develop formats, concepts or research areas, and create specifically customised activities designed to meet the requirements of the partnering media houses. The partnership also aims to help those participating to be better prepared to produce high-quality investigative reporting.
Anna Maris says the speed of those working on the joint MRDI/Fojo project was crucial. By April 2020 webinars looking at different aspects of journalism were being organised.
These covered issues such as safety for reporters and camera crews, right to information (RTI), gender, misinformation, and how media houses could be financially viable during the pandemic. According to Anna, this work strengthened the project’s reputation and credibility.
In May, the team published a Covid reporting guide which was based on information produced by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) Bangla, another partner in the MRDI/Fojo project.
With misinformation about Covid rife the project also supported BD FactCheck as part of the investigative journalism initiative. BD FactCheck carried out more than 50 investigations about Covid-related stories sharing the results on social media.
Anna says responding to the challenges of the pandemic and moving quickly to deliver the MRDI/Fojo programme on digital channels has been a massive learning curve and that it has been an “eye opener” to see how much is possible to do on-line.
“Our organisation had no tradition of working digitally and neither had the participants. Nevertheless, we managed to carry out a huge organisational review and deliver our most complex mentorship programmes on investigative journalism digitally using Zoom and Padlet for workshops.”
Anna joined as programme manager in March 2020, but because of the pandemic she has been prevented from travelling to Bangladesh and has not been able to meet her colleagues in person. However she says good relations and friendships have been developed as the team works daily in the digital space. And this, Anna says, bodes well for the future.
“Our project has resulted in a much smaller environmental footprint, due to no travel for a year. We have made a digital leap with regards to working practices. Our fast response to the challenges of Covid has built further credibility for the project. During the pandemic we have also spent time building strategies for the future, which will benefit our project, our partner organisation and Fojo itself.”
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic Anna says the project has still achieved impressive results. Those involved in the Investigative Journalism Partnership, she says, have been able to produce some high-quality journalism.
One investigation by a local journalist revealed that hand sanitiser being sold in Bangladesh by a brand with more than 90% of the domestic hand gel market was using methanol, a form of alcohol that is toxic for the skin.
The journalist then took samples of different hand sanitisers to the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research where it was discovered that other companies had also failed to follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for producing alcohol-based hand sanitisers. As a result the products were removed from the market.
“It was time-consuming for us, but raised the digital literacy massively for those journalists. When the training commenced it worked brilliantly.”
Anna says participants have coped well with the change to digital and online working.
“When we provided training in some of the regions, we first had to deliver courses via Zoom as many participants had never used any kind of digital conference software. It was time-consuming for us, but raised the digital literacy massively for those journalists. When the training commenced it worked brilliantly.”
She says the Fojo and MRDI project staff have also benefited and increased their digital skills “significantly”.