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Bangladesh to have first women news agency

14 October 2009

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Television News Agency, the first news agency to be run by a corps of female broadcast journalists will be launched in Bangladesh this month. Headed by a Knight International Journalism fellow, the initiative will train women to report on development issues in a primarily male-dominated environment.

Several government officials and members of the diplomatic community will attend the Oct. 19 launch in Dhaka of Bangladesh’s first-ever news agency run by women and focusing on women’s issues.

Image credits: India TVNA will provide hands-on training in the fundamentals of reporting

The Television News Agency is a joint collaboration between the Washington, D.C.-based International Center for Journalists and the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and Communication.

TVNA, headed by Knight International Journalism Fellow Kawser Mahmud, aims to train women as reporters, who will then produce stories on women’s issues and their lives in Bangladesh. The agency aims to produce stories largely under-reported by the mainstream Bangladesh media.

“We have very less participation by women in media,” Mahmud, a veteran of both print and broadcast journalism, told India-West in a telephone interview from Dhaka.

“But that is changing. Women now are getting interested in reporting and producing, and as we continue this project we will inspire women to enter the profession,” he said.

Only 35 of the 520 members of the Bangladesh National Press Corps are women. And of the 2,000 journalists working in the country, less than 150 are women.

"Our hope is to develop a core of female broadcast journalists who will then train other women"

Elisa Tinsley, director of the Knight International Journalism Fellowships program, which is administered by ICFJ, said that the vision for TVNA was developed at a conference in Sweden, when Tinsley met Nayeemul Khan, the president of BCDJC.

“They were very interested in empowering female journalists. Our hope is to develop a core of female broadcast journalists who will then train other women,” she said.

TVNA is the first institution in Bangladesh to offer hands-on training in the fundamentals of reporting. The country’s few journalism schools teach mainly theory rather than practical skills, said Mahmud.

Many of TVNA’s first batch of 40 trainees come from print media, and have some experience in journalism. Under Mahmud’s guidance, they are learning how to translate their stories to a visual format.

The trainees have reported stories on child labour and children’s nutrition, the difficulty of getting potable water, day care centres, nursing homes for seniors, and female trekkers who have climbed the Himalayas. The feature stories are then fed to various television channels within the country.

Along the way, Mahmud also gives his trainees the confidence needed to go out and report in a primarily male-dominated environment.

“It’s difficult for a woman to work in the middle of the night in a third world country,” he said, adding that the institute provides training on just such challenges, among others.

Mehrin Jahan, one of Mahmud’s trainees, recently made the jump from print to broadcast journalism. “It is an awesome experience. I never thought I’d be able to transport a message this way,” Jahan, 20, told India-West by telephone from Dhaka.

“Visual information is a much more attractive medium for reaching people and we can reach so many more people who cannot read,” she said.

"Fifteen of the first 40 trainees have gone on to work with mainstream television channels"

Jahan is currently working on a story about eve-teasing, the harassment of women by men in crowded places, such as a bus or public area.

“Our women are very much a victim of this crime,” she said, adding that the issue is greatly neglected and not often discussed in Bangladesh. Jahan said she would also like to focus on the health of rural women and their children, and stories about women’s empowerment.

Fifteen of the first 40 trainees have gone on to work with mainstream television channels. The rest are working on stories for TVNA.

The biggest challenge now is selling the stories to television stations, said Mahmud, adding that he is currently providing content free of charge, but intends to make the agency self-sustaining. TVNA also aims to sell its stories to NGOs and companies looking at corporate social responsibility.

Through the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, reporters work in several countries around the world to lead projects that have an impact on journalism and society as a whole. The fellowships last at least one year, and are awarded to reporters from throughout the world who have at least 10 years of experience in journalism.

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