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Africa

Niger: "If we don't watch it, the conflict's going to escalate."

The political situation in Niger is tense. A DW Akademie workshop series is focusing on conflict-sensitive reporting and is sensitizing Niger journalists to the skills of balanced reporting.

"I could hardly wait for the workshop to start," says participant Hadi Yahaya. Twelve journalists from all over Niger have come to attend the second part of the DW Akademie project Conflict-sensitive journalism taking place in the country's capital Niamey. In August, the journalists took part in the initial 10-day module and produced their first reports.

For years the political situation in Niger has been tense, making conflict-sensitive reporting more important than ever. International terrorism has spread all over the region. Kidnappings and drug smuggling are providing the financial basis for terrorist groups including Al Qaeda, and the war in neighboring Mali has further increased tensions. Given extremist religious groups as well as Turareg rebels in northern Mali demanding independence, prejudices especially against the Tuareg population have flared up.

On the first day of the workshop participants discussed experiences. Balkissa Sidi Ahmed is a radio journalist from Gaya, a city located some 200 kilometers from the capital. "The reports we produced during the first workshop were incredibly up-to-date," she says. "One of the interviewees at the time told us, 'If we don't watch it, the conflict's going to escalate.' And that's exactly what happened. Two days after the workshop finished things did get worse." She was referring to confrontations between the general population and the security forces - a result of the government's current antiterrorist policies.

Since the war began in Mali international representatives in Niger have upped security measures and closed a public road in Niamey. As a result an entire neighborhood was cut off, inflaming local reactions. "If more radio stations had reported on this ahead of time, it might have prevented the escalation," says Balkissa Sidi Ahmed.

All participants agree that conflict-sensitive reporting is essential. During the first workshop in August the radio journalists were introduced to conflict-sensitive basics: how to produce balanced reports, how to bring those voices to the fore that had previously not been heard, and how to avoid stereotyping.

In preparation for the second workshop the participants were asked to research and gather material for further reports. "It was hard work," says Assouma Tidjani, a participant from Tahoua, some 500 kilometers from Niamey. "After a week of researching, though, I finally got the interviews I was after." Tidjani's report focuses on Niger's so-called "locked-in women". Once they are married, the women are no longer allowed to leave their homes.

"My report was easy," says Hassimi Abdoulaye from Niamey. He has good contacts with the city's fire department and reported on a local car accident. Mohamed Attan from Agadez also has good contacts and wanted to gather material for a report on child trafficking with Libya. His main contact, however, refused to go on record even though he knew the journalist well. "I finally managed to get another interview on the day before leaving for this workshop," says Attan. "It was with a young man who had been dragged to Libya when he was only six years old."

After the discussions the participants set to work, editing and mixing their reports. The trainers assisted where necessary. "I'm impressed," says DW Akademie trainer Martin Vogl. "The journalists have brought along good material and interesting interviews."

The workshop series is being held at the IFTIC, Niger's journalism school and a DW Akademie partner. The school also has a radio studio where the participants can produce reports "as live". "The more practical the work is here, the more it reflects the participants' working environments back home," says DW Akademie project manager Sandra van Edig. "This way they can more easily apply what they've learned here to their own stations."

The reports being produced are just one part of a radio program focusing on conflict-sensitive issues. During the 10 days in Niamey the journalists will tape additional interviews and invite studio guests. In the future, DW Akademie's partner radio stations plan to produce monthly, conflict-sensitive programs. "This is a new approach in Niger," says Sandra van Edig, "and can contribute to more tolerance in the society."

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