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Canadian Journalism Foundation recognizes Allan Thompson and the Rwanda Initiative

(TORONTO, June 6, 2007) — The Canadian Journalism Foundation has presented Carleton University professor Allan Thompson with a special Humanitarian Award in recognition of his contribution to journalism through the Rwanda Initiative project.

Romeo Dallaire presents Canadian Journalism Foundation Humanitarian Award to Allan Thompson.

The Rwanda Initiative aims to build the capacity of the news media in Rwanda through a partnership between Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication and its counterpart at the National University of Rwanda. The Rwanda Initiative, which will by the end of this year have taken nearly 50 Canadian journalists and journalism students to Rwanda since it was founded in early 2006, operates a visiting lecturer program at Rwanda’s only journalism school, a media internship program for journalism students and a media training program for working journalists in Kigali.

The Rwanda Initiative was established by Allan Thompson, a journalism professor at Carleton University who worked for 17 years as a reporter with the Toronto Star and continues to contribute a weekly column to the newspaper. Thompson recently published an edited collection called The Media and the Rwanda Genocide and posted a book tour blog on his website, www.allanthompson.ca.

John Honderich, Canadian Journalism Foundation
board member.

The Humanitarian Award was presented at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s tenth annual awards gala on June 6, held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel before an audience of 500 journalists and media executives. Former Toronto Star editor and publisher John Honderich – who just returned from a mission to Kigali as a Rwanda Initiative media trainer at the New Times newspaper – introduced the award during a special presentation.

“He was not in Rwanda for the genocide itself, but he, perhaps more than any other journalist, became immersed in the aftermath,’’ Honderich said. “Rwanda got under Allan Thompson’s skin.’’

Dr. James Orbinski, former head of Medicins sans frontieres also spoke during the award presentation.

The award was presented to Allan Thompson by Sen. Romeo Dallaire, the retired general who was the commander of the United Nations mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

James Orbinski, former head
of Medicins sans frontieres.

Founded in 1990, The Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) is a not-for-profit organization that exists to support and reward excellence in Canadian journalism and to act as a catalyst for co-operation and understanding between leading public and private organizations and the media. “Better journalism means a better-informed citizenry and an improved democratic process’’ the Foundation states on its website.

News media in Rwanda were central to the 1994 genocide, when hate media played a role in the killing campaign. And because of a lack of attention to Rwanda, international news media initially downplayed or misconstrued what was happening in the tiny central African country.

“The essence of Carleton’s Rwanda Initiative has been to address both sides of that media equation, to build the capacity of the media in Rwanda and to foster an interest in Africa among a new generation of Canadian journalists,’’ said Thompson, who launched the project last year and has now made seven visits to Rwanda since he first traveled there as a reporter for The Star in 1996. He will be returning to Rwanda again later this month to continue working on the initiative.

“I hope this award will draw attention to the important work of the Rwanda Initiative and the ongoing partnership that we have established to work together to build the capacity of the media in Rwanda,’’ Thompson said.

L-R: Allan Thompson, James Orbinski, Romeo Dallaire

In the first phase of the successful journalism teaching partnership, launched in January 2006, nearly a dozen veteran journalists and journalism educators traveled to Rwanda to take up positions as visiting lecturers. All participants published blogs on the project website, describing their experiences. The visiting lecturer program continues and as of now, more than 20 Canadian journalism veterans have traveled to Rwanda to teach through the project.

The Rwanda Initiative also grew last year to include a media internship pilot project that saw 14 Carleton students work at The New Times newspaper, the English-language daily based in Kigali. Based on the successful experience with the New Times, this year’s expanded internship will take another 20 Carleton students to Rwanda to take up placements at the New Times as well as the Umuseso/Newsline newspaper group, the French-language newspaper Grands Lacs Hebdo, Radio Rwanda, TV Rwanda, the private radio station Contact FM and the video-documentary unit of Internews.

This internship will expose the interns not only to the current conditions of life in Rwanda but also challenge them on how best to improve reporting of these conditions domestically and internationally. Freedom of expression in Rwanda is still being tested and the country suffers from a lack of professional media standards. This project is an invaluable opportunity for interns to work overseas in a developing country, to gain the kind of hands-on experience that is crucial to success in Canadian journalism and make a significant contribution to the future of Rwandan journalism.

Alongside the ongoing visiting lecturer program at the university in Butare and the media internship, the Rwanda Initiative this year launched a new media training program that will see a number of veteran Canadian journalists travel to Rwanda to train working journalists at the same media outlets where the media interns will be placed.

One of the first to participate in the new media training program was John Honderich, former publisher of the Toronto Star and current chairman of the Torstar Voting Trust. Other media trainers visiting Rwanda this summer include Star reporter Debra Black, the news director at CJOH in Ottawa, Scott Hannant, Ottawa Citizen reporter Gary Dimmock  and CBC journalist Joan Leishman.

The new media training program is designed to foster greater professionalism in the media sector in Rwanda. Senior figures from the world of Canadian journalism will go to Rwanda as visiting editors and reporters, to work alongside their Rwandan counterparts at print and broadcast media outlets, including both government-owned and independent media. A host of veteran Canadian journalists will take part in the new program, which will have a focus on coaching, and hands-on media training in the newsroom.

A number of other journalists will also participate in this phase of the Rwanda Initiative project, which will be undertaken with support from Carleton International and CIDA’s stand-alone public engagement fund. A minimum of 16 Canadian journalists and journalism educators will go to Rwanda in this phase of the project, which is being launched immediately.

For more information contact:
Prof. Allan Thompson ([email protected])
School of Journalism and Communication
613-520-2600 ext. 7439 (Mobile: 613-799-1791)





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