Saturday, 30 April 2011

Prue’s Truth Passion

Veteran Journalist Says Media Builds Peace

Nat Bayjay, (Temporary US #: 202-445-3622) (231-77-402737)

New York City, New York, United States

Never dreaming of Africa initially in her entire journalism profession, Prue Clarke now tasks herself with the responsibility of ensuring that the continent’s female journalists are trained to tell the stories themselves. Originating from Australia, Prue had made the United States her new home where she had gone to achieve higher education in the world of journalism.
Says Prue: “I settled in the US about 10 years ago. I never thought of Africa. I never knew whether Liberia was on the map.”
But a trip to Ghana where she had taken up an assignment of training journalists in Ghana led to the idea of ‘giving something back.
Working for the Financial Times at the time, she thought to make useful journalists: “I wanted to train some journalists who could be useful. The people were fantastic. The stories were really important and I really thought that could be useful.”
Since then she has spent lot of her profession in Africa including Ghana, The Congo, Liberia, and Eastern Africa with the belief that the best way to peace building in these countries is through the media.
With the advent of her ‘New Narratives’ project in war-ravaged Liberia, Clarke hopes to make an extension to other parts of the continent following her accounts of experiences she had in The Congo: “What really made me really determined to start New Narratives is that one day I was in The Congo and I heard lots of stories about child soldiers, rape and torture victims in Liberia and Rwanda. They were raging and painful and difficult for everyone who’s covered those stories. This afternoon, I listened to one after the other women in The Congo talking about this same kind of situation…they didn’t know why the war was going. They didn’t know about the minerals that they had under their feet that people were fighting about. They didn’t know about the American government involvement. So, it seemed very crucial to me that they know the information.”
Now a visiting associate professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, the veteran journalist who won numerous awards including the United Nations’ Gold Medal believes the best way to tell such stories was to do so with the locals themselves:  “All along I have been sharing my information to my American audience, my Canada audience and my British audience who couldn’t really do anything about it. It’s the local people who can do something. So, it just seemed critical to me that those women needed to have the truth so that they can stand up for themselves.”
Her New Narratives project back in Liberia is making impacts as it collaborates with local media institutions. Mind-blowing and emotional stories such as the famous ‘Five LD For Sex’ and its sequel ‘I Sleep With Over 20 Men’ published by the FrontPage have since attracted more attention to some of the societal gender issues facing women in the post-war nation.
She says it was a better idea to work with the best journalists in the country. Being aware of the huge challenges such as lack of equipment and resources, Clarke says: “We can come and train you how to do it black and blue in the field but if you don’t have good equipment you can’t really do it. You’re never going to do any critical reporting in as much you get pay from the people you’re reporting about. So, it seems critical to me get the best journalists in the country that will set a high standard by giving them all the tools we have in the West to do good reporting. That is why New Narratives started.”
On her sudden media concern for struggling journalists in those African nations, she replied: “The truth is I don’t see people as being Liberians or Australians or Ghanaians or Americans. I see us all as human beings and it might be because my parents are Irish as you know that the history of the Irish is that we are the ‘black people’ of Europe. In my mind, anyone who is suffering, I want to do what I can do to help. I believe very strongly in the power of the press.”
Being the first international journalist who foreshadowed the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the continent’s first female elected president, the former Financial Times and Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter has already begun seeing the results of her project.
“When you set a high standard, you see everyone else following. I see that already happening. I see you guys putting the victims and survivors more in the stories, the people who are more impacted and that get everyone involved”, she added.
The New Narratives project currently trains and empowers female journalists only but this is not the end-dream of Prue. She intends to bring on board their male counterparts as well: “We want to train all journalists. The goal is to train all journalists but the biggest problem in Liberia right now is that in my mind there is only a single female journalist in every six Liberian journalists.”
The former Financial Times reporter  believes that with such imbalance the Liberian media would not be able to cover the whole of Liberian population because, according to her, men may not feel comfortable covering women’s issues: “So, it is important to have a closer 50-50 or 40-50 because half of the population is women.”