Bolivia is home to numerous indigenous radio stations but their staff are largely self-taught. The Pro Periodismo project is giving these indigenous journalists a chance to hone their professional skills.
Max Cachaca concentrates as he reads the news into a microphone. The news items on the small piece of paper he's holding are written in Aymara, one of the indigenous languages spoken in the Andes region of Bolivia.
Cachaca's co-presenter, an older woman, has her hair tied in two long braids and wears a round bowler hat and innumerable petticoats. She's a 'cholita', a term used to describe women who wear the traditional dress of the Aymara indigenous people.
A group of men and women aged between 20 and 50 sit around the two hosts, listening intently to the news reading exercise. They are all participants at a radio workshop being conducted in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, and have traveled far to attend the training.
The workshop is being held at CEPRA (Centro de Producción Radiofónica), an umbrella organization of more than 100 indigenous-run community radio stations. CEPRA is a partner organization of DW Akademie and the German development agency, GIZ.
Indigenous community advocates
In 2009, Bolivia approved a new 'plurinational' constitution, which gives special rights to Bolivians of indigenous descent. The constitution also protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The adoption of the new constitution didn't usher in a period of objective and balanced reporting, however. Rather, Bolivia's media landscape remains largely dominated by political, state and private interests. As for the journalists themselves, instead of reporting critically and independently, they are often participate in the antagonistic exchanges common between the supporters various political parties.
On the other hand, Bolivia does have a diverse media sector, and independent media such as the indigenous community radio stations, play a special role. Not only do these stations offer music and programming in the indigenous languages of Quechua, Aymara and Guarani, they also report on the needs and interests of indigenous communities.
Unfortunately, these stations often only have basic technical equipment and are run by groups or individuals who have acquired their skills on the job. Many of the staff are farmers or teachers who work at the station in their free time. None are trained journalists, and this is reflected in the quality of the programming.
"The reporters often just talk to local authorities and cite them verbatim without doing any analysis or putting the comments in context," says Elena Ern, DW Akademie country coordinator for Bolivia.
One of the reasons for this, she says, is that radio staff tend to have a great respect for authority. "Many find it a huge challenge to interrupt an official during an interview and ask probing questions," she says. This was the starting point for a series of workshops that have been held at CEPRA over the past two years.
Trainers and participants on an equal footing
The workshops were part of the Pro Periodismo project supported by GIZ and DW Akademie and sponsored by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Some 100 indigenous journalists from local and community radio stations throughout the country took part in this first phase of the project.
The workshops had a hands-on focus, enabling participants to get a better grasp of basic radio skills such as how and when to do street interviews, ask better interview questions, and how to conduct research.
The style of the workshops, with a mix of practical exercises and role playing, put the trainees on an equal footing with the trainers, which was new for many of the participants. In Bolivia, teachers still tend to teach from the front of the classroom with little active participation.
The workshops also looked at how journalists see themselves and their role in society.
Current social issues were part of the training too, with experts from NGOs and social initiatives contributing input on a number of issues, including violence against women and internal migration.
"The trainers had to be extremely sensitive when they dealt with topics like these because many of the participants had been directly affected themselves," says DW Akademie trainer, Camilla Hildebrandt. "It's then a challenge to show radio workers how to produce unbiased and balanced reports."
Max Cachaca is a labor migrant himself. The 46 year-old grew up in Chacarilla, a mining town perched on a mountain ridge some 200 kilometers south of the capital, La Paz. He and his parents later moved to El Alto - at the time a poor suburb of La Paz and now the second largest city in Bolivia.
Like his parents before him, Max Cachaca worked in the Chacarilla mines. He then joined a local radio station after hearing about it from a friend. These days he reports from El Alto and La Paz.
"I had to teach myself everything because I couldn't afford to go to university," he explains, "so I felt shy when I joined the station because I wasn't sure that I could do it."
The radio workshops, he says, have taught him how to prepare and set up programs, how to write scripts and how to use different sources for research.
Certification of skills
The project's first phase - additional training for local community radio workers - is now completed and CEPRA's next goal is to establish itself as a center of excellence for local and community radio stations. With support from DW Akademie and GIZ, CEPRA aims to offer a training program for local radio makers that combines both theoretical and practical components.
In order to achieve this, CEPRA staff will be trained in how to teach using hands-on methods. The program is also intended to become a certification course, which will allow radio makers without academic qualifications, like Cachaca, to gain formal certification.
Reporting on local needs
The lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, compounded by poor harvests due to climate change, has resulted in Bolivians steadily moving to urban areas. According to the International Organization for Migration, 60 to 70 per cent of those now living in Bolivia's four largest cities have migrated from rural areas.
Cachaca's own experience of migration means he can paint a realistic picture of the migrants' lives in urban areas in his reporting. As well as giving tips, he also warns potential migrants not to expect too much from life in the city. "People trust me and know that I don't represent any political interests," he says, "and that's important for me.”
Community radio stations also have the potential to boost democracy, a function that programmers and reporters aren't always aware of. "Bolivian news programs focus mainly on the big cities, especially La Paz, because that’s where the government sits," says country coordinator Elena Ern.
With more participatory programming such as call-ins or round tables discussions, she says local media staff can promote balanced discussions on key social issues.
As for Cachaca, one of the things he learned at the workshops is that he can't exclusively do interviews with government officials.
"The public has to have a voice as well," he says.