Building capacities of young journalists in view of forthcoming elections in Burkina Faso

As a preparation for the October 2015 elections, UNESCO organized a training seminar for young journalists from 1 to 3 April 2015 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Some thirty participants came together to work on techniques for electoral reporting including learning about the election process, legislation and international law, the role of journalists before, during and after the election, and how to engage themselves while respecting ethical standards and codes of the profession.

UNESCO, having more than two decades of global experience in building capacities of the media professional to best cover elections, is well positioned to undertake this endeavour. The Organization provides in-depth training on election, investigative and conflict sensitive reporting, supporting technical reform and sustainable media development, and developing professional election reporting, which is particularly essential in the context of democratic transition. As countries are undergoing political reforms and changing electoral procedures, the need to keep citizens well informed is a preventive measure against vote buying, and electoral fraud and controversy.

The training seminar in Burkina Faso was opened by Bila Dipama, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education, who stated that “knowledge is a powerful tool, which is fundamental for UNESCO’s mandate”. Sanmalmin Aristide Dabire, Secretary-General of the Burkina Faso National Commission for UNESCO, recalled in his opening remarks the difficult political situation of October 2014 in the country, and highlighted the important position that the media holds in the democratic process and, therefore, the importance of UNESCO’s work related to the training of young journalists.

The training seminar focused on giving young journalists a thorough understanding of the election process, its importance and the role of the press during this period. In the first session, Socio-Political Crises in Africa and the Responsibilities of Journalists, the trainer encouraged participants to debate and respond to questions such as: “Do journalists need ethical rules?” “Can journalists be politically engaged?” and “Can journalists receive rewards from heads of political parties?” Conflicts in Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire were used as examples where journalists had taken a negative role.

In the second session, the young journalists became familiar with the concept of democracy, the country’s Constitution and the African Union, followed by a discussion on the electoral code of Burkina Faso. Later sessions focused on more technical aspects of election reporting including non-biased reporting.

This training workshop was a substantial contribution by UNESCO to the overall efforts aiming at improving the quality and the professional standards of reporting in the current media landscape, especially in view of the forthcoming national elections.