Forty students in Hong Kong enrolled in a journalism programme centred on reporting on human rights. Over six months, they conducted investigations and produced original coverage from interviews and in-depth research.
“I found the workshop on the death penalty very useful,” shares one of the participating students. “It helped me get a sense of the situation in Asia and around the globe. I could tap into the views of different stakeholders in depth through analysing different cases. Before this session, I had never come across any data, stories or facts about the death penalty.”
Created two years ago, following Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement – a series of student-led pro-democracy protests, which saw massive participation from social activists and online independent journalists, the programmebrings together future journalists interested in learning how to report on issues from a human rights-based perspective.
“A lot of them were quite young, and not studying journalism, but they wanted to do something about the situation,” shares Doriane Lau, Education Officer at Amnesty International Hong Kong, who is involved with organising the workshops in the region. “We felt it was important they know their rights as a journalist.”
Creating a participative environment
The objective of the workshops is to provide students with the right skills and tools, but also adopt an interactive format. “Students are used to one-way communication, where teachers give them information, and they conduct the analysis,” explains Doriane,
Participative workshops are an engaging format for young people, as they are different from the lectures or talks that students are used to in formal education. The purpose should not be to provide them with information that they can analyse, but give them the tools to find the information themselves.
Each workshop deals with a different human rights-based approach and includes a speaker session, usually led by a university educator with extensive knowledge in the particular area being discussed. It also includes a group assignment where students apply the rights-based framework and journalistic skills they have learned by reporting on a topic of their choice.
While students are encouraged to pursue the assignment as independently as possible, Doriane shares that in her experience, it is valuable to include additional guidelines and support at this stage, such as helping students to finalise an angle around which they can focus their story before they can start conducting interviews.
Adopting a human rights-based approach
Students usually start each day by discussing their thoughts on the previous workshop’s assignment before they receive a brief introduction about the day’s programme, the main expectations and the guest speaker who is invited. The speaker then introduces the discussion on the exercise of rights, and applies it in a context that is meaningful for students.
During a session on the rights of the child, for example, the discussion starts off with what it means to the students to exercise their human rights in their own school, and then asks the participants to reflect on some of the school’s rules and what they think about them from a rights-based perspective.
Young people found this session particularly impactful as it challenged them to question how they could push for greater student participation in their own schools. “I realised that a lot of secondary schools in Hong Kong have poor understanding of human rights, especially the rights of the child. It was a reflective session for me, as I started to question how I could push for better civic education and student participation in my own school,” shares a participant.
Incorporating practice-based assignments
The written assignments encourage students to conduct an analysis through a human rights framework and apply the different approaches that they learn. Students refine their journalistic skills conducting interviews and writing a report. “I understood more about news writing, conducting interviews, human rights and the importance of journalism,” shares a participant.
The open-ended nature of the assignments also helps students to explore topics that they might otherwise find difficult to discuss openly. For example, a group of students who applied the discrimination framework to the issue of LGBTI rights conducted interviews with legislative counsellors who were willing to share how they experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
Giving students the freedom to focus on issues they are passionate about also encourages more personal involvement during the assignment. Another group who researched the issues faced by domestic workers collected extensive primary data through interviews with migrant domestic workers. Their final report provides a comprehensive analysis of the situation and includes recommendations on specific government policies to change in order to improve the lives of workers.
Favouring personal reflection
Encouraging students to reflect on the different tasks is an important exercise in assessing the impact of the programme, and giving them an open space to discuss their thoughts. “The last session of the workshop includes a reflective session, where students can speak with the experts who lead the different modules,” shares Doriane.
This reflective session also encourages young people to exchange ideas about how to share what they have learnt with the wider community. As a result of the session, two students decided to share their insights in their morning assemblies, while others discussed ways to raise these issues in their upcoming student election.
Creating a platform for interaction
A platform for participants to ask questions – whether it is a blog, or a Facebook group, ensures that they stay connected between workshops, since most of them attend different schools.
This platform helps to update students with necessary information whether it is related to the logistics of the next workshops, upcoming assignments, or providing timely assistance if they have any questions on the workshops.
In addition to ad-hoc communication, interactive platforms promote active participation within the programme. “We had many students come back saying they want to help out by sharing their insights from the programme in their schools, and amplifying the impact of the workshops,” shares Doriane.
Adapted to the school curriculum
The journalism programme is an effective way to engage with a larger number of schools particularly because its design and approach cater to the needs of the formal curriculum. Since the first workshop, 40 students from 22 secondary schools have taken part in the programme.
“Journalism training allows us to meet some of the criteria set out by the curriculum in Hong Kong,” says Doriane, referring to the liberal studies programme, taught in most high schools and that encourages students to explore different social issues.
From a student’s point of view, the value of a rights-based approach extends beyond the scope of the workshop. “I discovered that many aspects in our daily lives can be examined with a rights framework,” shares a participant. “This helps me with my studies as well as my understanding of current affairs.”
Amnesty International Hong Kong’s Human Rights Youth Journalist Programme will expand to university students with a new format for participants already experienced in journalism. “The level will be more in-depth,” shares Doriane, adding that the students will co-create a newspaper at the end of the programme.