For the month of September, I was part of an international training programme at the Fojo Media Institute in Kalmar and Stockholm, Sweden, for journalists who are considered potential change agents.
Days into the programme, the main instructor, who has managed the programme for the last twenty years, Marie Kronmarker entered the lounge where we were having “a good time” with tears rolling down her face.
The reason for her tears was that one of the journalists who had participated in the 2007 programme, Sultan Munadi, had been killed and his body left on the scene, as allied forces tried to rescue The New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell in Afhganistan.
Farrell who had been kidnapped with Munadi emerged unscathed. It downed on me, later, that many of my colleagues in the programme, knew and accepted that getting killed, was an occupational hazard of being a journalist in many of the countries they came from.
And this rarely obtains for western journalists when they find themselves in similar situations as seen from this case.
This danger posed to journalists, informed part of our interaction with different personalities from, media owners and managers in Sweden to the Minister for International Cooperation Gunnilla Carlsson. She told us that she understands what it means to be a journalist in some of the countries that were represented.
And, she went on to assure the group that, in Sweden, they have friends as they pursue their calling.
Sharing experiences with journalists from countries like Burma, Afghanistan, Colombia, Nicaragua, and the Middle East, I got to appreciate the magnitude of challenges some of us have not experienced in our own situation.
Many face the danger of being blown up by suicide bombers, physical elimination by drug cartels and in some cases government’s agents.
I realized that as journalists, we operate in different environments and sometimes, though we may have similar challenges, the magnitude and scale can sometimes not be compared.
At the same time, from visiting media organizations, I realized the scope of the differences in capacity and technological advancement when compared to the developed countries.
Of course for most of us from the developing countries, who were targeted by the programme, that has now closed after two decades, the circumstances of our operations are not so different, although they are always informed by the unique historical circumstances of the respective countries and more so like Rwanda, to an extent by the history of the media in the political processes and tragedies that have been witnessed.
Talking to most of the journalists from the developing countries, I realized that most of the western liberal attitudes that inform the western way of life and hence journalistic practice may not be entirely acceptable to our society.
It may take many years for many of such practices to be acceptable.
Part of the programme involved visiting newspapers. These included mainstream newspapers like the leading morning dailies and the sub-urban alternative newspapers.
Sweden is probably the only country where print newspaper sales have not been affected by the economic downturn and even the advent of the internet as an alternative source of news.
This is according to many of the newspaper editors I talked to, because of a strong newspaper reading culture that goes many years back.
Even the advent of the popular down market-evening sensationalist and gossip papers has not affected the traditional up market newspapers in terms of sales or attracting new readers.
This is different from many other countries like the US and even in developing countries where the papers, referred to, in these parts as tabloids have threatened the traditional papers.
Apart from these mainstream papers we also visited and interacted with editors and reporters of a feminist magazine andsome, some a magazine for the gay community known as KOM OUT (Come Out).
This is where societies differ, and in most cases these differences and ways of life, are reflected in the way journalists practice their trade.
In almost all the countries we all came from, being gay is illegal and hence a crime. Yet in Sweden one is even allowed to legally change their gender.
Again in Sweden as Minister Carlsson told us, things like gay rights are part of the human rights agenda. And Swedish International Cooperation, that Carlson presides over, is informed by a human rights agenda.
It is interesting to see how such cooperation will unfold in the future, especially with countries and societies where some issues considered human rights in the west are considered taboo.