The impact of the pandemic was particularly noticeable in Fojo’s SE Asia region, which covers Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV).
According to programme manager Nai Nai, most partners were not ready or able to adjust to online training leading to an almost complete shutdown.
From early February 2020 all planned activities and training across the four participating countries in the region stopped without any indication as to when the various events might resume.
Over the following five months Fojo’s team in the region was in constant touch with partners to try to find out what could be done while they were unable to travel.
Nai says that many of those who were accessing the programme from home faced the problem of trying to concentrate while the noise and chaos of domestic life interrupted any chance of them engaging in meaningful conversation.
“The majority of those taking part have insufficient work-space at home. They are also trying to look after their children and cope with household noises. And many don’t have internet connectivity. This is especially the case in Myanmar. There is also the problem of frequent power cuts. So, we tried to support them by helping with internet data fees so that they could continue to communicate.”
Nai says that to cope with the pandemic, the SE Asia team had to reduce its expectations of what can be achieved with the partners, and remain flexible for the time when they are able to resume the planned activities.
As the virus spread, many traditional newsrooms across the region attempted to adapt to digital forms of communicating and reporting despite not having the necessary tools and resources.
The editor-in-chief of Reporting ASEAN, Johanna Son, who has been working with Fojo as a consultant, carried out an investigation to look at how newsrooms and journalists in the CMLV region were coping.
This included a panel discussion at Splice Beta, an organisation which focuses on the digital transformation of the media in Asia.
It also involved the production of an Online Journalism and Storytelling Handbook, which was presented to partners and other regional journalists via a webinar held in September 2020.
According to Nai, adapting training from face-to-face to online proved problematic.
“When communication moved to online, trainers from our partners found themselves unable to rework the training material. We hope our handbook assists their needs. Yet, the language barrier is still an issue for the trainers. So, we decided to translate the handbook into all four languages.”
As a result, the Online Journalism Handbook was translated into Burmese and Vietnamese and published as soft copies. Translations into Khmer, Lao and Thai, are being prepared.
By the time the second coronavirus wave hit the region many of the newly planned activities had to be put on hold. The situation was particularly bad in Myanmar and Cambodia.
But the Vietnamese partners continued with their delayed training on reporting sexual harassment, as set out in the WAN-IFRA handbook which Nai says was important for maintaining momentum and engagement during the pandemic.
“These resources have been a positive for our project at a time when we are unable to push our partners to do something new or creative. The operation depends so much on the response from partners we work with. When they are vulnerable, not-ready, or unwilling to change, it is difficult to initiate new ways.”
The realities those working for Fojo in the region face means it is difficult to be innovative
She says the realities those working for Fojo in the region face means it is difficult to be innovative. But despite this, they have to continue to leave “the seeds of journalism material” for partners to use.
Apart from the online journalism handbooks Nai points to other resources prepared for journalists working in the area.
There is a Vietnamese translation of a WAN-IFRA handbook on reporting sexual harassment, which is now “slowly but steadily being received by the journalists” through Fojo’s training courses organised by its Vietnamese partner (NDACDC). Nai says that in Myanmar and Cambodia, Fojo will circulate the gender training module for partners, and says the UNESCO’s Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation Handbook is now available in both Vietnamese and Khmer.