Children’s news agency changing the face of Bangladeshi media
By Dipankar Shekhar Dipu
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 2 February 2006 – It looked like any other press conference in the capital, but there was one big difference: on this particular day it was Bangladesh’s top newspaper editors on the receiving end of pointed questions – from children.
It was an entertaining sight; senior editors squirming in their chairs as a volley of questions were thrown at them by young journalists. The junior ‘journos’ from Shishu Prakash – or Children's Express – enthralled the packed audience at the National Press Club with their hard-line approach:
“Why can't you give more space to children's news?”
After sitting through the barrage, some editors admitted that the issues and questions raised concerning children's rights in the media had increased their 'learning curve'.
“It is now time for Bangladesh to create a separate newspaper for children,” remarked the editor of the Bangladesh Observer, a daily English-language paper.
Shishu Prakash is a news agency dedicated for children and youth, set up in May of 2005 to enhance both the quality and quantity of development news about young people in Bangladesh. The programme has already produced 640 reporters. Over the last several months these budding journalists have made substantial inroads into the national media scene, publishing 394 articles in major Bangladeshi newspapers on children’s issues.
There have been reports on the repatriation of boys working as camel jockeys in the Middle East, the children of the Geneva Camp, a camp of Pakistani refugees seeking to return to Pakistan, and a feature on a child rickshaw puller. One Bangla daily has even dedicated a corner space with bylivnes for stories produced by the young journalists. Two more dailies – one Bangla and the other English – have promised to allocate one page every month exclusively for Shishu Prakash stories.
Supported by UNICEF and implemented by Mass-Line Media Centre, the pilot project aims to empower journalists aged 14 to 18 with the techniques of reporting child development issues.
Ten children in each of the 64 districts throughout the country – five boys and five girls – identify and write news stories. The stories are then sent to the Shishi Prakash Child Rights Desk in Dhaka before they are published in 10 selected national Bangla and English dailies.
Children of poor families have excelled in competing for spots as journalists. Fifteen-year-old Rubel is a restaurant worker in northern Joypurhat district who has secured a place at Shishu Parakash. A boy from a slum area in Noakhali district also
Due to its immense success, the children's news agency has become a priority programme for UNICEF Bangladesh. The goal is to increase training so that the children’s writing continues to improve. UNICEF is planning on holding training sessions with the new journalists in districts around the country. A two-day national training course will also be organized, when children from the districts will come to Dhaka for intensive writing workshops with some of the country's top newspaper editors.
Jonathan Schienberg contributed to this story.