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LATIN AMERICA: Indigenous Journalists Plant a Seed

LA PAZ, Nov 28 2008 (IPS) - Journalists from indigenous communities in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala and Bolivia came together in La Paz to take the first step towards creating a network to work together and support each other.

Some 20 professionals from radio stations that cover rural areas shared their work experiences in a Nov. 25-26 workshop sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and organised by the Inter Press Service (IPS) global news agency.

Participants also presented initiatives aimed at establishing an ongoing exchange of information concerning the activities of their communities and their hopes and objectives in terms of social development.

At the workshop, called “Journalistic Minga: Developing Indigenous Reporting in Latin America”, the 20 or so reporters representing a variety of indigenous cultures – from Central America to Bolivia’s Andean highlands region – identified common interests and opened up ways to communicate with each other.

The indigenous term “minga” was aptly chosen for the workshop’s title as the word refers to a traditional indigenous gathering convened to achieve some sort of collective purpose.

With the support of IFAD, IPS, through its Latin America regional editor Diana Cariboni and Bolivian journalists Ronald Grebe and Juan Javier Zeballos, encouraged participants to produce in-depth features when reporting on their communities, in order to most fully reflect the lives of indigenous people.

The purpose of the workshop was to provide tools to help journalists carry out in-depth, accurate coverage of the issues that affect their peoples, said Farhana Haque-Rahman, Chief of Media Relations, Special Events and Programmes at IFAD.

Approximately 370 million of the world’s inhabitants are indigenous people. They make up five percent of the world’s population and are among the most impoverished communities, Haque-Rahman said.

Native peoples pursue alternative roads to economic development, far from the policies of certain bankers and ignoring the statistics that label them as the poorest of the poor, expressed Roberto Haudry, IFAD’s Country Programme Manager for Peru.

The best thing that indigenous communities can offer the world is their traditional knowledge, but first it is necessary to promote a renewed appreciation of the value of indigenous knowledge and greater respect for native peoples, Haudry said.

IPS Regional Director for Latin America Joaquín Costanzo spoke of the mainstream media’s lack of interest in the issues of indigenous peoples, saying that it has turned into yet another form of exclusion and neglect.

In view of this lack of interest, Costanzo said that the project’s goals included raising public awareness about the conditions faced by native peoples and creating a network of journalists interested in sharing information.

The IFAD-IPS workshop was the culmination of a project for the production of investigative journalism articles by reporters working for rural media outlets, distributed or broadcast in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Arabic, on a global level, and regionally broadcast in the Quechua, Aymara and Maya languages.

At the same time, radio stations received a selection of stories from IPS. A competition was also organised to encourage journalists from the region to write about indigenous issues, and the entries are currently being reviewed.

La Paz was chosen as the venue for the news workshop because of Bolivia’s current political and social process, headed by Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, Costanzo said.

During the two-day workshop, the situation of the native inhabitants of Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela was analysed from the perspective of communication and the role that these communities play in the struggle for rights and greater opportunities.

Colombian journalist Silsa Arias, a member of the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia, gave a passionate presentation on the role of newspersons who are immersed in the land conflicts and political pressures they cover as journalists, and are thus at the same time participants and observers.

Arias spoke of political empowerment as a way for indigenous peoples – who are for the most part ignored and marginalised – to regain a rightful role in society.

Jorge Montiel, from Venezuela, gave an account of the indigenous mobilisation against coal mining, which is destroying the environment, generating air and water pollution and pushing poor families off their land, forcing them to migrate to the cities.

Guatemalan journalist Cándido Rodríguez, a member of the Kaqchikel Maya indigenous Radio Kastajinel station, and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), focused on the contribution of journalists to the strengthening of habits and behaviours aimed at promoting family values and health care.

The feature stories produced under the guidance and supervision of IPS regional editor Diana Cariboni will now be published, and a communication network dealing with the issues of Latin America’s indigenous peoples will be created.

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