Engaging the Media in Human Rights

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Engaging the Media in Human Rights

The media, at least in our highly mediated/industrialized societies, is one of the pillars of power. That's why we need to become skilled at engaging journalists and news editors in giant media corporations, and alternative grassroots information outfits alike.

We need to be interested in "engaging" the media not just as another constituency with some influence, but because it is one of the ESSENTIAL levers of power. The media is integral to civil society. The media -- and this may be a worldwide phenomenon -- bolsters or undermines progress. It makes or breaks regimes. It fosters, or undoes, a culture of respect for human rights.

Failure to impact the media, or at least bring some measure of control over hateful radio propaganda for instance, has been shown to imperil human rights from poor inner city ghettos in America, to the farthest reaches of bloodied African hills. Likewise, triumphant press campaigns through media-savvy efforts that have come to the righteous defense of victims of injustice and abuse around the world, improving and saving thousands upon thousands of lives over the last decades.

So while the media has made us realize we live in a global village, the views it carries can build, or destroy, each of our own individual huts.

In the age of the all-pervading "Branding", billionaire public relations firms and mass manufactured opinion, the media holds a measure of social power that just can't be ignored. That is why indeed, now more than ever, we simply cannot escape engaging the media deliberately, compellingly, in the struggle for human rights.

We are very consciously using "Engage" – an important word to remember – for this discussion. We'll be exploring together the many ways we do and can engage the media. We’ll also utilize one of the tried and true tools of the journalists' trade - the 5 W's and H - "why, who, what, where, when, and how" of engaging media in human rights.

“Why” do you engage the media in your human rights efforts?

Media Involvement in Human Rights is a Requirement

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Engaging the media in Human Rights advocacy is an essentialspect of the struggle itself, hence the need to pay attention to why media involvement and exactly how do we involve the media. Most importantly, the social function of the media is closely related to the activism around Human Rights advocacy, the media is the societal watch dog advocating for the required change. The involement in Human rights brings a lot of attention to specific issues that requires change and processes necessary to be followed to realise the change.

While recognising that both functions from different angles, the objectives are quite similar and identifying further strategies on how to make the process work effectively for different context is of importance. Hopefully we can explore this workability of the process together effectively.


Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi ,Women's Human Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

"Why" of engaging media for human rights

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

Good morning everybody. First, apologies for not being able to attend the conference call yesterday

I wish to address the fisrt vital aspect of engaging media in the discourse of human rights. So why should we engage the media at all? It is universally established that media is essential for dissemination of information, creating opinion and more importantly mobilising masses to make an informed choice. It works well in many scenarios - in democratic societies where the constituents can shape the policies of their governments as well as in international geo-politics where member states of regional and the global treaty bodies can influence, warn or penalise non-conformist regimes. In a society, the best aspect of media engagement in human rights is its ability to bring the facts to light and more importantly to start a debate in public domain where citizens are made part of the process of realisation of rights with facts and information providing them an opportunity to inspect and analyse the various aspects of rights, their benefits and consequences. Not all might agree in favour, but access to facts and bringing issues in public discourse achieves  a very vital goal of right to know and hence creating a social and thereby political momentum through making an informed choice. It is the vehicle that shapes, often defines and launches the movements to realise rights. Thus, media may not be a guarantor or human rights but it is more often than not the very starting point for their realisation.

Engaging the Media in Human Rights

This comment was originally posted by Sharon Lamwaka.

One thing that seems to be much appreciated is that the media have an important role that they play in human rights activism. If this is generally accepted, then one may ask, how then can human rights activists engage the media? How should we package our information so that when it is run in newspapers or broadcast on electronic media, we are not frustrated by the results that we get. Many times, NGOs complain that media houses reported on the activities of their organisations in ways that they did not want! In order to avoid such disappointments, it is important to engage with the media so that both sides interact and are able to speak from the same side of the coin. This would help clear the grey area that NGOs / Media experience.

How can we engage the media in human rights?

This comment was originally posted by Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna.

The media is the most important place to talk about Human Rights, newspapers or broadcast on electronic media.

Through the Media, individuals, organizations, networks and groups around the world are able to bring their human rights stories and campaigns to global attention and to mobilize action to protect and promote human rights. The question is the, Is the  Governments allowing the Media to reports about the Human Rights activities in their countries?

IN Liberia I know good Human Rights activists that were active, we can read about them in news papers, hear and see them on radio and on T.V. The Government have given them jobs and they are not talking anymore. WHY?

Even though mechanisms exist to protect human rights defenders, many continue to face harassment, intimidation or other abuses. Defenders who work in such situations develop strategies and tactics to protect themselves and others, based on their daily experiences. But they also need to be able to call on a wider human rights community for support.

Journalists and Human Rights NGO leaders should work together to fight the Human Rights violence in Liberia.

The journalists and Human Rights NGO in Liberia can survey the root causes of Human Rights atrocities. Working together through their unique roles, they can shine light upon and advocate for needed social, political, and  legal reform.

Human Rights NGO and media participants should paired up to visit local NGOs engaged in victim assistance, police intake units for victims of violence, and human rights organizations active in advocacy efforts.

Strategies and tactics for protection
This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 
Dear Agnes,
I agree with you. If human rights aren't discussed in the media, where will they be discussed?
Thanks for reminding us of the major threats to their lives that many human rights activists -- and those who report on them -- face in your country. Given the high cost some have had to pay, it is no surprise that a good job may also help silence others...
What strategies and tactics have you seen were effective in protecting people?
One good way to engage the media in the richest countries is to bring in journalists who face menacing situations to speak here at media events and journalists conventions. The work that Reporters without borders does also finds some echo in the mainstream press. I have seen it's "Press Freedom Barometer" reprinted, for instance.
I think the difficult situations faced by journalists in other countries is a very good way to "hook" our reporters to human rights stories elsewhere.

Philippe Duhamel

Why we engage the media? Common origins & aims of media & NGOs

This comment was originally posted by Alan Davis. 

The media are the natural amplifiers and facilitators of messages and information across society -linking the government and the governed and so it is natural that NGOs should wish to engage with the media: I usually think references to history or historical events are problematic when trying to get different interests together to focus on development, stability and peaceful co-existence: That said, it's important to realize  that modern journalism owes its origins in the West to the pamphleteers of old who were the human rights activists of their day - advocating reform, changes in regressive laws and issues such as emancipation and suffrage. So I don't think we should be to shy about promoting close -and closer association still between media and the NGO community: If the media is not about defending rights and promoting freedoms, monitoring abuses and promoting good governance and transparency -what is it for? In areas of transition and crisis this is especially so and journalists and editors should be proud of their association  with and support for NGOs and the human rights community and wear their association like a badge of courage. Being pro-human rights and pro-NGOs doesn't though mean being pro-opposition or anti-government. So the media should strive to be de-political (i.e. politically objective and neutral) -but pro-human rights and advocates for society.


Alan Davis

Director of Special Projects






Applying Advocacy Journalism for Change

This comment was originally posted by Evans Wafula. 

Advocacy as a concept can apply to mass media. Journalism is defined as a work of writing, editing or publishing daily newspapers and other periodicals.  There is a wave of liberalization in media scene in Kenya that has transformed the media paradigm.

When the transition settles the free press will not be state controlled, but will be havens for good advocacy journalism. Indeed with new developments where print media concerns have launched into radio and television establishments, there is not only a criss-cross of talent but even much more critical, there is a criss-cross of content and a subtle exchange of places in terms of prominence and recognition. 

Undoubtedly, the electronic media has the potential not only to upstage the print media in the not too distance future but the pride of print media genres come alive on television and on radio as they dramatically acquire flesh and blood status. In addition, the speed of electronic media in Kenya robes the print media of its attention-catching, story-breaking monopoly and hence it has proven to be the undisputedly the most attention-catching medium of mass communication suitable for advocacy journalism. 

 Advocacy Journalism therefore must be seen in its broader definition and content encompassing all mass media, as well as the work of such other practitioners as communication strategists for change, human rights organizations, political parties and community based organizations in service set up. It must engage the silent ones, must speak of inner states, must speak of desires of silent ones, and must facilitate their utterance that all others shall hear. In addition, advocacy, therefore remain critical for the silent ones to silence the auditors. Both are crucial to a new human rights dispensation. 

In the new emerging democratic dispensation witnessed in Kenya anything done that ignores the uplifting of human rights and democracy is insensitive to effects of change and will be injurious to the new way and reminiscent of present and past methods, values, and ends.

Undoubtedly, the articulation of the new methods, values and ends in monitoring, investigation and reporting human rights abuses is at the heart of new advocacy strategies.   

The only advocacy that will capture once again the enthusiasm and the spirit of the people is that which goes beyond singular agendas-that ties these surface slices to the wholesome whole, to a far reaching vision of a different set up that address the ordinary people’s whirling preoccupations with genuine promise for being free from abuses and respect for human rights. 

As the human rights movement continues, it is important for the population, and the frontiers, to keep identifying and defining their tactics. Media that offers itself for the sensitive renaming change and definition of the new and old, encountered on the way, by change, offers a critical service. Advocacy journalism should aim at in-depth treatment, holistic approach and researcher’s culture, side by side with a genuine and strategic participatory rather than token approach to human rights. 

While researching in human rights, advocacy has shown that the closer advocacy is to the natural mode, the more effective it is.  Advocacy journalism is elastic and pervasive. The new technological divide offers great possibilities for the professionals particularly in regard to communities, venerable groups, and rural and semi-urban areas and interventions for radical and urgent change. In addition the rising star of the free press in Kenya that has started with liberalization will take on board two kinds of advocacy talent; the   community drama talent and the community media talent as well as the journalist. 

Journalists practicing advocacy must be well grounded in communication theory and societal change. The current emphasis on agenda content and writing skills is harmful to the very effort of advocacy. Advocacy is part of a new global awakening for individuals and group rights, identity questions and is a language for change. Advocacy journalism in Kenya now makes part of a quest for an alternative pathway to the future that takes on board the population and is not a frivolous adventure for a few in the human right movement.

While the media has taken a prominent position in the current debate of good governance, the pursuit of this cause has sometimes been viewed with suspicion, cynicism, nostalgia, outright hatred and an occasional sense of retrogressive melancholy.

The media in their calling are agenda setters for societies. In the context of human rights advocacy, they should ideally promote and protect good governance. They should also be at the forefront of educating the populace on their human rights and responsibilities. 

Human rights advocacy have always been very indistinct with different tactics, having both public as well as personal characteristic. Their significance focuses on the success of their sociopolitical and cultural values. This tactic focuses on the fundamental role of “advocacy journalism,” in engaging the media in human rights advocacy to end impunity and help hold perpetrators accountable, an advocacy organization that litigates to end impunity and advocates for human rights, usually sends a team of human rights monitors to investigate the allegations. If a case, for instance, is reported and documented, consent is then obtained to use the documentation for publicity.

The principle of confidentiality still applies, Journalists practicing advocacy journalism then publish the case in newspapers or a documentary is carried out in the electronic media, the impact of the media sparks a national debate, which influences public opinion. The media is often ignored by organizations freighting to champion human rights due to the cultural setting, which determines the conduct, performance and practical language used, by the various organizations involved in advocacy.

 Africa Intractive Media Foundation and Voices of Africa Project applies advocacy journalism to defend the rights of torture victims, who are systematically violated with impunity.  Whenever there is a case of human rights abuse or torture reported against the police, the victims often face obstacles in obtaining the necessary documentation to press for charges. Victims complaining of torture or ill treatment by the police are required by the law to report the allegations to the police station before being issued with a police complains form –P3 form, the form is to be certified by a police surgeon before the police prefer any charges against the accused police officer(s).

Victims must prove that they were subjected to torture and that the act was intentional and systematic. 

Advocacy journalism proves effective and represents the needs of many victims of human rights abuse, facilitating advocacy and monitoring even at national level where bureaucracy still holds.



Africa Interactive does this through the promotion of citizen journalism where mobile phone users document and report through sms every form of abuse they encounter. 

This tactic appreciates that human rights advocacy includes social organizations and processes, which strengthen or even weaken cohesion. It holds that communication is one of the processes and the level of communication existing in a society is manifested in communication content and strategy.        

This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 
Dear Evans Wafula 
Thank you for sharing this. I am shocked. 
You report and I quote: 
"Victims complaining of torture or ill treatment by the police are required by the law to report the allegations to the police station before being issued with a police complains form –P3 form, the form is to be certified by a police surgeon before the police prefer any charges against the accused police officer(s).


Victims must prove that they were subjected to torture and that the act was intentional and systematic. "



I find this requirement morally outrageous.  
I am floored! This is SO wrong.
It's as if we told women who were abused by their husband to return home, file a complaint with the man, fill a P4 whatever questionnaire they have to get from the abuser, and then ask the man's brother to perform a physical examination.
Then the onus is on HER to prove the injuries were intentional and systematic?
 Well, if there ever was a case of the fox being responsible for complaints in the hen house...
I'm curious, has this ever been tackled by the press in Kenya? Has anyone ever tried the process? Was it reported on? I'm burning to know.

Philippe Duhamel

Gasp is right

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Philippe, you have pointed out the true nature of injustice in so many judicial systems around the world. Your analolgy regarding the situation of domestic abuse of women is exactly what women DO face around the world.

It was precisely for that reason that Mufuliat's organization, BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights in Nigeria set up a mock tribunal to raise public, police, judicial and legislative awareness of the injustice women have been facing on a daily basis. You can read more about how they are making a difference for women in her tactical notebook, A Mock Tribunal to Advance Change - it's incredible work!

But to answer your question - (though I hope Evans will respond too) has the issue regarding torture and the demand to report to the police to make a complaint ever been tackled by the press in Kenya?

There is work being done on this. You can read more about how the Independent Medio-Legal Unit (IMLU) in Kenya has been engaging the media to make a difference by reading about Victor Bwire's presentation on Advocacy Journalism at the New Tactics Liberia Workshop in February 2007.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Media and its purpose

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

Alan has raised an interesting point. He asks : "If the media is not about defending rights and promoting freedoms, monitoring abuses and promoting good governance and transparency -what is it for?"

So what is the mandate of media? Broadly to inform and entertain. It is the first aspect that is of great importance as we discuss its ascribed duties to inform, monitor, promote, educate...I would say media's paramount purpose is to inform. It should not be seen as a champion, promoter, negotiator or arbitrator. Although, all of these and mentioned above could be byproducts  if the media resolutely performs or is allowed to perform its basic function to inform... to bare the facts. As long as facts are presented unbiasedly and accurately, the purpose is achieved to start a discourse on rights and build a momentum -through agreement or disagreement, to examine its all aspects, needs, benefits and consequences.

However, media itself taking the role of a champion or ascribed notions of a pathleader and a torchbearer are both worrying scenario. Both these positions run the risk of influence from political stances and ideologies. Media at its best should be - and be treated as -  to unbiasedly and neutrally approach issues and present facts in public domain. Media, for its own credibility and for wider involvement of masses -thereby in greater interest of the champions of causes, must ceaselessly remain neutral. Political and ideological leanings - even among causes, slows the process of their realisation and divides public  support and erodes political consensus. Thus, media must remain an all accommodative platform and not a champion of rights. In doing so it remains the biggest facilitator, a vehicle for realisation of rights. It must not be seen as an end but a very powerful means to arrive at ends in human rights.

Unbiased reporting

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Thank you Alan and Davinder for raising this important question of "What is the media for?" and bringing in the idea that media is supposed to be unbiased into the discussion.

It is well and good to hold the ideal and goal of unbiased reporting. For in that case, unbiased reporting would inevitably thendefend rights and promote freedoms, monitor abuses and promote good governance and transparency.

I think we would be naive not to recognize, however, that media all too often operates with a tremendous bias that is skewed toward those who either own, or have the means to influence, or control the media (e.g., corporations, government).

I think it's also important for us to recognize that when media is providing solid, investigative reporting on rights and freedoms, abuses, governance and transparency (among other areas of civil importance) that there will certainly be a huge range of counter perspectives and views. The interesting thing is about rights is that they must be negotiated in relation to the rights of others. Perhaps that is one reason why we may see media as looking "unbiased" if we are part of the majority community. And looking "biased" if reporters address minority community issues and concerns. But if we are part of that minority community, the media is certainly not providing equal time, energy, or resources to our concerns, issues, and views.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Some tips for engaging the media on human rights
This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 
Salut tout le monde,
I've just posted here on the interTactica blog my first contribution to this dialogue. I have tried to sum up what I have learned about engaging the media for human rights. There are 32 tips in there, some of which you might find useful.
I'll be reading all contributions here and will share more as the week proceeds.
With warm greetings from a snowy country,
Philippe Duhamel

Philippe Duhamel

Engaging the Media as an Outsider

This comment was originally posted by Sarah Ingebritsen. 

Hi All,

I have a couple of questions I would love to put forth to the featured practitioners and all other participants.

As an activist without any training or ties to the media, how do you get journalists to see themselves as activists as well? That is, how do you begin to engage the media as an outsider? My high school peace and justice group (yeah, I’m young and inexperienced…) always tried to get our local media involved in our issues. We would call them when we were planning a protest in an attempt to get more coverage than the handful of people who would walk past our carefully crafted signs, and we would submit editorials to the paper- mostly to be rejected except for one glorious publication. We weren’t effective in spurring anything but a fleeting interest, if that, in the journalists we talked to, and I’m sure there are much better ways to go around it. Since all of you have incredible experience and training in the fields of journalism/media, do you have any suggestions for how to successfully approach media that doesn’t have such an active and engaged background in human rights work, and how to foster a sustainable interest in human rights issues and relationship with said media?

Resources on youth/student organizing and the media
This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 
Dear Sarah,
 Well, looks like your not-so-great experience didn't discourage you too much: You're here and it shows you're resilient!  
It is so hard to start from scratch, with little experience, almost no support, and very limited means. But you have energy, and time to read?
Then there are a few good resources out there on media work and organizing in a student setting. Let me point you to two:
The 1995 Campus Organizing Guide has some great tips on planning an event, publicity techniques and media releases.
Although issue-specific, the LGBT Campus Organizing Comprehensive Manual also provides good, generic information on how to use the media.
Then again, there's also a few good tips here.  
Stick with the work. Organizing is just like any other thing. The more you do, the better you get. Good luck! 

Philippe Duhamel

Getting back to the "why" of engaging the media

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

A critical aspect of engaging the media is actually understanding “why” you want to engage media in your human rights effort. This can be both a strategic and tactical decision.

Consider what the added value would be for engaging the media in your effort. Also consider the fact that engaging the media can also be a liability if the "message" picked up by the media is NOT the message you want broadcasted.

As Sharon points out, there is often disappoint, at a minimum, and sometimes outright animosity that develops on the side of NGOs toward media because the media did not "get the story right", but reported the story in a way even contrary to how the NGO wanted it reported.

There is never any guarantee that your story will be reported in the way you most desire. But there are ways in which you can position your message and information to increase the probability that it will.

The very first tip from Philippe’s blog – Lessons from a successful media campaign is “Decide what you want” - he writes:

"You should know what major step you seek, or policy change you want. Define your objective and stick to it. That's your nail. Stay on message. Hit it as often and as hard as you can. Streamline your moves and define one angle for the day, towards your objective."

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Engaging the Public

This comment was originally posted by Wendy D.

So, I think that this topic of engaging the media is such an important one, and I am thrilled to have our experts sharing their knowledge with us. It's no secret that important issues too often get pushed aside by the media. It's truly an art to successfully engage news organizations and the like.

 But I wonder if it might be an issue of wondering which comes first (the chicken or the egg)? My point it this: it seems that most media responds (albeit slowly) to what their audience wants. Through feedback, advertisement sales based on viewership, ratings or whatever, the media get feedback on what people are watching, responding well to, and want to see more of. So when the media doesn't cover something is it because they have learned from experience that people don't like to hear about it? Or are they just being neglectful?

Certainly, this idea doesn't take the guilt away from any media outlet for not covering certain issues, but perhaps it's because they're waiting for larger audiences to start paying attention to those issues. I think every human rights activist can attest to having experiences when people don't want to hear about an issue because it's too hard to think about or makes them feel guilty or helpless. What if the media are just feeding off this too-common trait present in so much of the public?

What are some ideas for making tougher issues easier for audiences to swallow? Is engaging the media also kind of like packaging issues and stories in a certain way so that the public (not the news organization) will want to hear them?

What makes a human rights issue newsworthy?

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

I want to thank Wendy for moving us into the "what' questions. (Not that we can't still ask and answer plenty of other "why" questions.) But let's share ideas on What makes a human rights issue newsworthy; or as Wendy asked, "What are some ideas for making tougher issues easier for audiences to swallow?"

I was listening to a program on the radio featuring the director of the animal humane society. He talked about the difficulty they have engaging the public in protecting animals. We recently had a large outcry regarding the horrendous treatment of cows going to slaughter in a major meat factory that resulted in the recall and destruction of thousands of pounds of beef. The director of the animal humane society said that there have been much worse cases of animal abuse they have tried to expose to the public but the media said they were too graphic and disturbing so wouldn't report them.

I find myself in a quandry about this issue. Images of horrible events can greatly disturb and traumatize those who watch and hear about those events. On the one hand, media will often graphically show footage of a murder or accident scene (what might be called sensationalism) yet won't cover the reality of war - saying it's too disturbing.

The public may be more inclined to demand an end to war and conflict, as well as a wide range of abuses, if they really understood both the reality of it but also that these CAN be changed. It is in our power to do something about them.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

"How" to engage media

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

Sarah and Wendy draw our attention on how to engage the media in various rights and advocacy campaigns. For this it is vital to understand how the media operates. Just as much media often introduces issues, starts trends and builds opinion, it itself suffers from the side-effects of what it delivers and creates. Media is not insulated from what it creates or the reactions that occur within socieities. Reporting a trend or an issue often makes it popular and brings it in public discourse a la "talk of the town". So even though at first instance media may have reported or created an issue, soon after its availability in public domain and driven by the "demand" for that "supply", it  not only takes the role of  a supplier/promoter of more information as well as finds itself in a position where the issue grows to a size that it dictates more and more coverage.

At this point one may not Nancy's observation on media bias. With their supported ideologies, political affiliations, market or ownership, it is almost impossible to be "zero-bias". Even widely-acknowledged indepenedent and neutral media corporations like the BBC often face accusations of a slight bias. However, in a more pragmatic approach, attempt should be to remain as close as possible to the centre of neutrality.

Coming back to Sarah's and Wendy's views, increasingly media, unlike public-funded corporations like the BBC,  has had to constantly make compromises to remain sustainable. And in many cases- to make profit. So news, events and issues sometimes go through the filter of their saleability in terms of circulation. It's like checking if the pizza has all the right toppings for a sell out! We may not like it, but it is the reality of the day. However, organisations can get around that by creatively designing their campaigns and using innovative approach to highlight their cause. As a news producers I would be more likely to send a crew to cover activists posing dead in Trafalgar square highlighting the plight of Darfur victims than to attend a group meeting in a cosy charity office. Or I would be more keen to cover installation of a ticking clock in the city that reports number of children dying of malnutrition across the world.

The above are just examples of how same things can be done differently without having to dilute their purpose and meaning. Best advocacy is to make the most of all means of communication and campaign starts from the ability of the campaigners to communicate.


Catching the media's eye

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

The point you raise Davinder about the salability of news is a big one. I'm glad you pointed out the kinds of "eye catching" tactics that can attract media attention as well as those that raise a yawn both from media and the public.

Creativity is a key word. The photo on the New Tactics front page "Lunch with Yong-Hee" was a very successful media attention getter for the Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU). Yong-Hee, a 57-year old minimum wage earner working in a college in Incheon City as a cleaner, shared the kind of lunch she can afford and eats daily with the public and media. A press conference could have shared how she was being denied her minimum wage legislated under Korean law. But a press conference would not have caused the kind of public outrage this meager lunch raised.

The KWWAU used a number of really creative, media and public attention tactics. As a result, the public signed petitions and demanded a change in both the sub-contracting and minimum wage laws.

It was the very creative ways of bringing this reality to the public eye that made all the difference.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

How to engage the media?

This comment was originally posted by Alan Davis. 

A journalist is trained -or encouraged to be cynical and for good reason: A journalist who belives what they hear or are told too readily -without checking things out from others -and determining facts and so on -is no journalist at all. We have all too recently seen in the run up to the most recent Iraqi war what happens when journalists just report what they are told by governments. So we should not then be too surprised that a good journalist will try and use that 'detachment' as a justification from trying to keep some distance from the NGO community.

At the same time all journalists need stories: All editors need material. All media are by tradition competitive: The more NGOs can imagine the perspective and demands of the media, the better they will be able to 'engage' in a way that satisfies both sides. Most importantly, the approach to the media should not be peacemeal, but should be strategic. It should not depend upon a single journalist who may change desks or jobs -but rather should be based upon a longer term vision which involves the senior gate-keepers (i.e. editors and publishers and station managers) and also more than just one media outlet. NGOs should not be thinking about one particular story necessarily, but trying to build a more sustainable, longer-term and profitable relationship with media houses on discussion, awreness and education about the issues -and always doing from the perspective of 'give' and 'take' -that is to say, helping the media produce very good and engaging stories on those subjects that are well crafted, accessible and theirfore popular with audiences -and so advertisers where relevant. Thus, we need to talk about 'marketing.' How not to engage the media? We need to discuss the practise of NGOs paying the media to attend presse conferences or cover stories or buying air time for programming: That short termist approach is wrong, unhealthy and unsustainable. It simply means NGOs are perceived as commercial advertisers as opposed to very useful partners in civil society development and protection.   



Alan Davis

Director of Special Projects




Re: How to engage the media

A low-cost technology tool for the production of media! 

This comment was originally posted by Kristin Antin 

I came across an interested tool for non-profit NGOs to produce their own forms of media (via video and audio). The website is called "NGO in a box" and their URL for the Audio/Video Edition is: http://av.ngoinabox.org/.

The Audio/Video edition of NGO-in-a-Box is a toolkit that lowers the
entry level for NGOs, non-profits and media activists wanting to use
audio and video for social change. It is a collection of Free and Open
Source Software (FOSS) tools, documentation and tutorials that
introduce you to the world of FOSS and the low-cost technology that is
transforming the balance of forces in the realm of media production.

Granted, this opens up a new idea of human rights organizations and activists creating their own forms of media. However, this tool can also be used to build the capacity of media partners and journalists, as well as human rights activists.

-Kristin Antin, New Tactics

Thanks Kristin Antin

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

Thanks Kristin Antin for sharing this. I had a quick look at the web page and found it very useful and would explore it further. I tis a reality that capacity building on th epart of NGOs and the media will go a very long way in strenghting the relationship of advocating for change in our societies.



Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Mutual give and take

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

The question of "paying the media" to come to events, write stories, and provide the public with information is a point needing to be examined very carefully.

I have been told by a variety of different NGOs that they must pay journalists - at the very least providing food and transporation - because they are so underpaid. Yet many NGOs staffers work unpaid for their labor for months at a time. They "volunteer" until another grant arrives saying they do it because they have passion for their work. This is truly a testament to their dedication.

Even if journalists don't have a "passion" for their beat, they are responsible, and do get paid (admittedly very low wages in many parts fo the world) for providing the public with information.

Let's look at the mutual give and take relationship that can develop. NGOs provide excellent opportunities for journalists to gather information, gain new perspectives, reliable sources and broader public interest. This is the give and take that provides a mutual benefit to both.

NGOs are not in the "market" to "sell" their product like a business. NGOs are not "making a profit", rather they are providing services to the public and in the public interest. Paying the media only serves to reinforce a false impression that NGOs have money to spend, which is very rarely the case.

I would like to hear from others how you've managed to overcome this practice of "payola" or "brown enveloping" - other words, paying the media.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Mutual give and take - very critical

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

Hi Nancy, i must say that you have raised a very critical issue in the area of NGOs working with the media and what it takes. I agree with you that it is a common phenomenon but sadly also some NGOs belief that since they are paying transport reimbursement to the journalist and also pick up their lunch  for the period, then the journalist should go the extra mile to adequately report their events very well, thus leaving their own assignment undone in terms of providing adequate information to enable the journalist write good stories about their events.

In Nigeria it is not compulsory that you must give the journalist any tranport reimbursment becuase as a journalist your media house is responsible for your transport to and fro the venue of any event you are asked to cover. However as an NGO if you have funding for that it is binding that you give this out. There are however some exceptional cases where the event you are organising is seen as more of a paid news than from a human angle perspective, in this case you would have to pay the rquired bill to the media house. 


Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Give and take

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

I'm not sure that I understand the situation in Nigeria Mufuliat. Are you saying that it's mandated by the government that NGOs pay for the transporation of journalists if the event they are covering is not considered a "human interest type event"?

If that's the case, who decides what kind of an event it is? Are there other rules that apply? For example, in your Mock Tribunal events, are these considered human interest events?

This is clearly a complex issue for NGOs and journalists.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

NGOs have to pay for the commercial aspect of Human Angle Storie

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

Hi Nancy, perhaps i did not make myself clear enough. The Mock Tribunal was entirely a human angle event and was duly given recognition as such. My point is that if journalists have to cover events more than the required normal standard, NGOs would have to pay for the services and this is not regulated by the government of Nigeria but by the different media houses. For example BAOBAB is currently engaged in a public interest litigation and so far the media has been giving the activities around the event adequate coverage. But on the Communique issued on the event the media houses of course drew their news story from it but will not publish the entire communique as is either in the print or in the electronic media. If we - BAOBAB or any other NGO want them to publish it in full, them we would have to pay for it.Also becuase now they will be talking baout air time and space. This is an example of what i meant in my earlier comment

I hope this clarifies the issues raised.


Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Paying for commercial space and time

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Thank you so much for this clarification. Yes, this makes sense that NGOs would need to pay for the space and time in this regard. For example, during the 2004 US presidential campaing period, moveon.org had a contest for people to submit videos of 30 second ads. They also raised money on the internet to pay for the air play time of the ad. Here's an example of one of their success stories:

'Raised Nearly $300K to Air "Working Retirement" Social Security Ad (January 2005) 
Thanks to MoveOn members, we were able to air this
compelling ad in key Congressional districts, as part of a larger
campaign to protect Social Security. Building off the famous MoveOn Child’s Payad, the spot explains why privatization is a bad idea. The ad footage was shot by Charlie Fisher, who also did Child’s Pay."

They have some excellent examples of creatively engaging the media. I'm sure others have good examples of how you've been able to maximize the use of your paid media time and space. Please share them.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

When the media is under threat, what else

This comment was originally posted by Evans Wafula. 

Hey! comrades just check out this links and find out what can obviously happen if the media is gaged and therefore its strategic to work with the media and creat safeguards.




"WHEN" - to join forces for mutual support

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Evans raised a critical question in his post. Journalists and the media have been under attack in many countries around the world.

[Photo by Evans Wafula: Journalists in August 2007 who took to the streets to express their opposition to the Government sponsored Media Bill which sought to take away democratic gains. This certainly represented a sign of the dangers brewing in Kenya.]

I don't know how the human rights advocacy community responded to this event. It certainly presented an opportune time to join forces and lend their support to the journalists. When looking at this picture - the banner reads "Protect our sources." Human rights advocates and the victims they work with are often these "sources" needing protection. A key moment with human rights advocates and the media are natural allies.

More than that - journalists today represent one of the most endangered professions. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ reported: "Journalists were killed in unusually high numbers in 2007, making it the deadliest year for the press in more than a decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ end-of-year analysis. Worldwide, CPJ found 64 journalists were killed in direct connection to their work in 2007—up from 56 last year—and it is investigating another 22 deaths to determine whether they were work-related."

Human rights advocates have a significant investment in lending their aid and support to journalists.

When might be other times when media and human rights advocates might have mutual goals?

Providing information package for the media

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

Undertsanding that the media and NGOs work hand in hand for the betterment of the society leaves us with the question of exactly how do we engage the media considering also the point raised earlier by Alan Davis. From BAOBAB's experience of working with the media our priority always is to make sure that the media actually undertands our issues very well. For coverage of specific events for example we invite them ahead of the event for a formal briefing for explanation of issues/terms that they may not  be familiar with. On the day of the event itself, we usually prepare press statements alongside an information folder prepared specifically for their own references. 

This has helped greatly because in writing their stories they already have sufficient information on the topic of discussion. so far our stories have not been mispresented or over blown as the case may be. This has worked very well with us. Compared to the time we were not doing this.

 My observation however is that most NGOs while working with the media assume that the journalists should be able to report their events very well even when they the NGOs have not provided adequate background information on the issues been discussed.

May be atimes NGOs forget that the journalists have the journalism skils quite alright but are not experts on HIV/AIDS  as an health issue for example unlike us that have become experts on the issue haven't worked on it for several years. As for the journalists after covering the HIV/AIDS they may move on to maternal mortality related issues organised by another NGO and so the cycle keeps moving on.

My analysis dwell on the need for NGOs to pay more time and attention to engaging the media by preparing sufficient information pack for them for events that we organise for adequate coverage .

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

BAOBAB for WOmen's Human RIghts, Lagos, Nigeria

Re: Providing information Package for the Media

This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel. 

Dear Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi,

I think you are providing advice all of us should heed.
If we are to help the media serve the common good (rather than merely the bottom line of their owners), we need to be deliberate and intentional in the tactics we use to approach them.
Press briefings can be a great way to build some ties and common basis for understanding. I am curious how it works in Nigeria. Because here in Canada, journalists would be very unlikely to attend a gathering like this.  
I'm wondering how do you package the event? What do you do to attract reporters in Nigeria? Do you just send an invite and they come? Here, we pretty much have to go in and meet them one by one in the press room. And they may agree to meet you only if you're right within their file (international affairs, government policy, etc.).
Press kits and well-prepared statements are also key and thank you for remind us. We just have to do much of the work for them sometimes, something I've covered in some tips I provided.
Let me share with you a trick we've used a few times here in Montreal. Because reporters get dozens of press kits every day, yours just has to stand out.
So here's what we do -- it's our little secret, so don't share with anybody else okay? ;-)
Put something big in the press kits that prevents them from being put in a pile.
For instance, we once did a teach-in on human rights and globalization. We glued a small toy chair on each press kit as a symbol of our event. It was held in the street and we had invited people to come with their own folding chair to debate big important issues.
Added benefit of our symbol: If the reporter tried to put other papers on top of out kit, they would simply slide off. So that was a way to make sure WE stayed on top!

Philippe Duhamel

Re: Re: Providing information Package for the Media

This comment was originally posted by Kristin Antin 

That's a really clever trick, Philippe!

I really like the idea of 'teaching' journalists about our human rights issues in addition to engaging them. While doing human rights advocacy work in Uganda, I was always trying to engage the media - for events, issues, and the organization's work in general. It seemed like engaging them wasn't very difficult, but to get them to really understand the issue, or the workfor that matter, was another problem.  For example, there were a few journalists that were very interested in the work that our organization was doing, but when it came down to actually writing about it, they were forced to 'fit it in' to a specific category. I remember there were riots and demonstrations in Uganda, and the journalist we were working with had to relate her story to those riots - and the use of teargas in particular. It was what the editor wanted, naturally. But we didn't realize this until the story came out. The result was an article that loosely tried to tie the work of a torture treatment organization to teargas, and made for some very confused readers. 

As badly as I wanted to engage the media, I should have put as much effort into educating the media on our organization's work. MIscommunication could lead to some awkward news stories.

-Kristin Antin, New Tactics 

packaging the event

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

I have also learnt a great deal from this experince sharing especially the'secret'. In terms of packaging the event, most times what we do is to organise a half day or one day workshop ahead of the planned event and the actual date for journalist that would cover the event. Most times we choose appropriate time of the week when they will not be too busy to leave hteir desk. At the same we also select convienient locations for their easy accessibility. Anothaer strategy is to send the invitation out to them ahead of time and to constantly follow up with a reminder via emails, text messages or phone calls.

Finally when they come one major point we stress over and over again is the fact that they are partners and at the same time stakeholders in  the advocacy for change in our society.

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Example of strategic engagement of the media

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

People have raised great points about strategically engaing the media in their posts.

Mufuliat hasn't shared this example herself but I think it helps to illustrate steps that
human rights advocates might want to consider when putting together a workshop
and to engage the media in your issue. This brief excerpt comes from Mufuliat Fijabi's tactical
notebook, A
Mock Tribunal to Advance Change

"We held two
workshops for journalists, one four days prior to the tribunal, and one the day
before. The first was co-facilitated by BAOBAB and CIRDDOC staff. One of
BAOBAB’s staff members had been a full-time journalist before
joining the organization, while another had researched and taught courses
on mass media as a university lecturer
, and was a co-founder of the
Nigerian Association of Media Women. The second workshop was facilitated by the
Africa Centre for Democracy and Governance, a non-governmental organization
that served as one of the tribunal’s

The media workshops addressed issues such as:

  • the role of the media in eliminating violence against women
  • an assessment of media reports on violence against women
  • the objectives, targets, and expected outcome of the mock

than use only formal lectures, these workshops included brainstorming and discussions, topics of which were raised
both by the organizers and the journalists. We chose not to involve
actual testifiers in the advance media workshops
 so as not to pre-empt
the tribunal itself.

Instrumental to the
strong turnout of journalists at both the workshops and the tribunal was our
determination to take their schedules into consideration
 during our
planning. Workshops were not held when journalists’ attention would be needed
in the newsroom or when their stories were due. Our invitation letters
contained brief descriptions of the discussion topics, and a timetable as well.

The different print and
electronic media organizations in Nigeria
were broadly represented at the workshops and the mock tribunal, and there was
strong coverage on both the national and international levels. The presence
of the Supreme Court judge led to wider public awareness
 of the mock
tribunal and the issues it raised."

looking at this brief excerpt, I highlighted some of the points BAOBAB did that was very effective in gaining a successful outcome:


  • They selected those best placed in their organization and
    network to provide the workshop training
  • They had newsworthy personalities to ensure media interest (at the event itself)


  • They outlined clearly the issues they would address during
    the workshop training - with a timeline so journalists would be aware in advance


  • They used a training methodology that was interesting and engaging


  • They arranged the workshop trainings at times that would not
    interfere with the journalists deadlines and other commitments
  • They reserved the actual testifiers for the Mock Tribunal –
    creating interest and suspense in the event they wanted publicized


  • Not stated in the example above - but the workshops and
    the Mock Tribunal were held at easily accessible locations

Have others have used this kind of planning for engaging the
media in your advocacy? Share your successful tips for engaging the media.

Media strategies

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.

I will start with Nancy's comment first. She talks about "payola" and situations where NGOs engage voluntary or as a necessity to keep the scribes in good humour by subsisting their cost of travel and food etc. It is an undeniable fact that in some parts of the world, media persons are not well paid enough and often have be like activists surviving on meagre resources. It is important for NGOs to draw a distinction between  hospitality and "bribe".  Passion for their work and ability to convince their purpose is what will apeal most to journalists of calibre. Equally, it is a public knowledge -especially in the media - that not all NGOs are true to their image, mandate and motives. This leads to Mufuliat Fijabi's observation about reliable, verified and substantiated research. The work of NGOs through their publications, statements, advocacy campaigns must reflect that their object and purposes are based on solid foundations of research and reason. Although Nancy draws an analogy with market situation - in a different context though- the process not much different, if not entirely the same as a "business transaction". 

 As an NGO my aim must be to convince (sell) my purpose if I wish to lead the organisation to positive results. A defensible body of research, identified aims and objectives and action plan is the basic essential, however, the next step is to disseminate this information and most importantly to convince others about its relevance and importance. Even the most worthiest causes may get lost in the crowd because there are aplenty.  As a journalist I am more "susceptible" to cover causes where I am impressed with the research and information and where I am "convinced" that it is relevant and must become part of public discourse.

This brings us back to my previous post which talked about effective communication strategies and activists themselves becoming the first link in the chain of effective communication. Like I mentioned earlier and Philippe has also underscored in his post, the need is to acquire more innovative approach and in effect become more effective communicators. NGOs following archaic methods of engaging the media face strong competition from their likes who use newer ways to get attention.  Some might say this requires resources that not all can afford. Not really. Innovative approach does not always come with a big price.

For example, if I work for an NGO that campaigns for the welfare of destitutes, I won't  call a press conference over tea and snacks to tell what I do. I would instead arrange for journalists to spend a day/night in a destitutes home or on streets and leave them to talk with the inmates and supply them with our research.

So coming back to Nancy's observation, we can say the media does operate like a market, but "selling" a relevant product often costs a bit of creative approach. If on surface all goods look the same, I am more likely to look at something that is somewhat different, compelling, new or engaging.  

P.S. I post my comments first thing in the morning before rushing to my other assignments so I don't check them for errors. Please excuse me for that in case you encounter any.

One more media tool I'd like to share...

This comment was originally posted by Kristin Antin 

Thank you Mufuliat for the motivating feedback on my post! I'm glad that you found it useful.

 Thus, I would like to share one more iuseful tool for those human rights activists that might be interested in bypassing the media to document and share controversial information. The tool is called 'wikileaks'. Have you heard of it?  It is a 'wiki' (which is simply an online document that is open for edit among the public) whose posts are entered by people around the world - anonymously! There have already been over one million posts entered to this website wiki. If you are interested in documenting and sharing information for which the leaking of such information could pose a threat to you, you should take a look at this website. 

And please read Sarah Ingebritsen's blog post on wikileaks for more information.

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics 

To be media-savvy, the key is creativity

This comment was originally posted by Philippe Duhamel.


(I'm writing this piece based on my North American context. I'm very interested in the differences in your region. So please share!)


Human rights abuses are rooted in power imbalance. Rights violations, whether originating from states, corporations, collectivities, or even individuals, are both symptoms and instruments of domination.


Because the media is defined in both ethymology and reality as the "medium", the go-between, the carrier of information and meaning, it is the main channel through which power relations will be observed, known and arbitrated as they are being (re)defined.


And so it is that a primary interest of the media lies in the "news", the shifts in power relations. Look no futher for the what, the why, the who, the when, and the how of newsmaking. Thus, being able to sustain a media presence means being able to affect and change power relations over a substantial period of time.


So there is that. 


But wait. There's more.


It's called infotainment.


Sure, Power and how it changes is a key obsession of the media. Yet the media is also pulled by a three-headed hydra — sports, scandal and sex — the three S's of sensationalism. Such snakes sell so well, see. The senses have to be involved. The more S's the better. And if there's blood too, oh have we got a headline for you.


Until it becomes too much. Because we (in the West)  like our blood in small doses. Not too much. And really, we prefer fake.


My suspicion is that although sensationalism tends to be overly exploited by mass infotainment corporations, the fascination burrows deep into human nature. I think we just have to admit that.


Therefore most media outlets cover social conflict as they do games, races and other sports events: they are mostly interested in the play, in who scores and who doesn't, in how some got injured and how some won the game plan. Everything is a contest.


We can critique it, we can deplore it, and debate it. But in the end, we somehow have to work with it. Or be ignored. If we want to hit the news, we have to find a way to use what's in the real world.


Does that mean we have to play crass? Not necessarily.


But I do think it means we have to be imaginative. The millions of dollars we can't afford in paid advertising and Public Relations campaign, we will compensate with the sheer power of our creative brains. 


It has caused me much grief to see countless worthwhile causes rely on the old, tired, boring press release cum press conference and expect to make a splash. Because human rights and other social justice organizations are smaller — don't forget, the media just loooooves power — only at our own expandable expense should we rely on the traditional means that bigger players use.


Davinder said that an innovative approach does not always come with a big price. He's right. And I agree with him that we have to be consistent. You don't invite the press to a fancy hotel to talk about the homeless. And you don't serve expensive pastries to talk about hunger. 


And here's the good news: in avoiding these pitfalls, you bring on the novel event that creates the headline. It's the dinner plate on the street solution. It's genuine. It's powerful. It's low cost. It's hard hitting. And it's us.


And that's where the future lies in engaging media for human rights.

Philippe Duhamel

"Who" - the target for creative and effective messages

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Yes creativity is essential. In order for these creative messages to be effective, they also have to hit the right target - the next critical question "WHO are we trying to reach?"

The "dinner plate on the street" Philippe refers to was a brilliant way they reached the average working person in Korea. The message connected to the average workers own life experience, they could empathize with the person representing the message (the cleaning woman), and it moved them to take action.

I was listening to the Bill Moyers Journal this evening - a public television program (this is a non-commercial television program) with his guest Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, political campaign researcher. They were discussing and analyzing the kinds of media the US presidential candidates are utilizing. One big change has been the use new technology and internet media (e.g., text messaging and You-Tube) - but also how the WHO each message targets is specific.

This critical factor in engaging in media - knowing WHO is your target audience (not just the journalists) and what kinds of message will reach that audience. iTaking lessons from the "dinner plate on the street" and the program I watched tonight make me think of these three points for helping to evaluate whether a message is reaching the target audience and is it effective or not.

1) If after exposure to the message (generally needing repeated exposure, not one-off), the target audience is more likely to see the issue as important to them.

2) Whether the action (offering a solution or moving toward a solution) being offered to address the issue is becoming important to the target audience.

3) Whether the message leads the target audience take the action or press for the recommended action being offered to address the issue.

Have others been able to evaluate the effectiveness of the messages?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Evaluation very useful in engaging the media in Human Rights

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi

I agree with both Nancy and Philipe Duhamel on the importance of Creativity alongside the thorough analysis of 'who' exactly are we targeting and the need to check carefullly if the message is effective or not, (evaluation).

One method is to do the on the spot assessment throught the use of questionaires. For example if a media workshop has been orgnanised around an event, it is important to encourage the journalists present to give their own comments at the end of the workshop. The infomation gathered will be very useful. Another method is to follow up. That is checking if the story has been reported either by publication or if it has been aired on the electronic media. At times one do find other programmes stemming from the initial story. This also has its own indication for evaluation purposes.

For example BAOBAB recently paid an advocacy visit to one of the media houses based on our past working relationship with them and from the discussion during the visit around women's human rights issues, another programme is in the pipeline to discuss specifically several other issues especially around 'indecent dressing' and the International Women's Day which is March 8th.

The planned programmes will be relayed live thus giving room for audience participation so in addittion to the media responding to human rights issues by initiating discussions from existing discussions, the audience is also actively involved 

Time to time follow up and evaluation gives one further ideas on how to continue to make the human rights messages new and newsworthy and also it gives one further insight on the next lines of action or strategy until the human rights of all is protected.

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Events and pressers versus ideas

This comment was originally posted by Alan Davis. 

Apologies everyone for missing yesterday -a lot on with regard to my project in Iran: As several people have alludedd to already, the more groundwork and thinking and strategic planning (all things that can be done for free in a dark or quiet room) the better the results (somtimes): So we need to park the issue of press conferences or even press releases to one side for the moment: It iis the issue or the idea (and as people have said already, who you are reaching out to) which are the mpst important thing. Events and pressers and gimmics are just the tools -sometgimes they are effective and sometimes -often not: As a journalist I used to get press releases constantly -some were just awful and went straight on the spike -some  were used to generate two sentences when we were desperate at the last minute to fill an empty space on page 27. Usually though if a press release got any real attention it provided something very new and interesting -a fact I didn't know, an angle i didn't know   -or a clue/iidea for a story (but the press release was only the starting point of the story). 

 I think it much more effective to develop the idea and the issue and get key people interested in the idea -you can do that on a one to one or informal meeting, a phone call or whatever. Gimmics can be good at one level -but at another they get in the way and mean your new story might get out at one level -but you have not necessarily made a connection with the media at a deeper and more sustained level.

So my parting shot for this Satuirday morning might be let's recognise and separate tools and vehicles (ie press conferences and press releases) from the actual reason for engaging.  


More later today. 



Alan Davis

Director of Special Projects




Strategic thinking and implementation necessary to engage media

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi.

Hi Alan Davis,

While agreeing with you that we need to do more strategic thinking, i am also of the opinion that the strategic thinking should go hand in hand with the tools  that is the vehicle with which to convey the ideas thought about. Press releases actually should not be left  on their own to move. From my experince as a journalist, the press releases also serve as sources of information to identify further areas of investigation along a particular story line. 

A very good press release for example on domestic violence could serve as a whole trigger to several other related stories/issues relating to the need to eliminate domestic violence.

When ideas are properly outlined the vehicles with which to convey the ideas should also be well defined and contextualised to get very good result

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

"Who" - building key relationships

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Thank you Alan for bringing us back to the reason for engaging the media and raising the "WHO" are we trying to engage and why.

Mufuliat shared some very good insights about how BAOBAB has done this in their work. She wrote: "For example BAOBAB recently paid an advocacy visit to one of the media
houses based on our past working relationship with them and from the
discussion during the visit around women's human rights issues, another
programme is in the pipeline to discuss specifically several other
issues especially around 'indecent dressing' and the International
Women's Day which is March 8th."

BAOBAB took the initiative to visit the media house; they engaged them in a discussion that lead to an additional opportunity to raise other issues that are timely - both for BAOBAB and the media - International Women's Day.

Building relationships with people take time and it's important that these relationships are genuine. No one likes to feel and be used.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Media tactics

This comment was originally posted by Davinder Kumar.


It seems we are only talking among each other. I do hope that this tactic does reach the target audience, even though many may not actively be involved in the discussion. Too much information can confuse, exhaust, mislead or at worst can kill the curiousity to know more. It is a vital tactic to be precise and to the point. Heavy hypotheses, voluminous reports and jargoned advocacy runs the risk of limiting its audience and thereby rendering its impact ineffective. Often it is best to remember what "NOT" to say. Keep it simple, easy to follow and to the point. The information - even though weighing in tonnes -  must be tactically presented and released in a tactical measure.

This reminds me to keep my post succint. But it is  fact that I have always found the best press releases to be precise, generating curiousity to know more. All the sums, algebra and trignometry can be available extras but findings must remain simple to report and even more important - to understand.

"When" - timing is everything

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

I've wanted to come back to the points you raised here Davinder. How important it is that information be presented tactically - and how the saying often goes, "timing is everything".

I wanted to share an excellent example provided in the tactical notebook, Engaging the Media: Building support for minimum wage reform by Jee Hyeon Kim, Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU) .

The KWWAU timed their campaign to tie into the current and broader societal concerns. Jee Hyeon wrote:

"The national media was very interested in our survey and subsequent campaign activities, which were featured in most Korean newspapers and broadcast on prime time national television. Media representatives told us they were interested in this minimum wage story because our survey had vividly described the situation of poor workers, and was the first to uncover evidence of exploitation of poor workers through misuse of the legal system.

We had also timed our campaign to increase media interest in the issue of the minimum wage. At the time, many Koreans were increasingly concerned about widening income differentials, and the worsening condition of poor workers. Our exposure of this problem through the survey provided the media with an opportunity to connect our story with broader societal concerns."

Not only did they provide their findings to the media, they also supplied

  • media catchy slogans,
  • petitions that highlighted the public’s concern, and
  • symbolic demonstrations that provided the media with “picture-ready” material highlighting the issue.

I was thinking this might be just the kind of example you had in mind. Perhaps there are others you would like to share?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Keep it simple

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

Keeping it simple is a particular challenge for human rights advocates. As you say Davinder, human rights organizations have often gathered volumes of information - all of which is very important because it documents what has happened to individuals, families and communities. It's difficult to weigh all that information to decide what or who will be highlighted.

This makes me think about how lawyers consider taking on, especially pro-bono (free) legal cases. They can sometimes seem callous and uncaring to those outside the profession. But they will very strategically take on cases that will help to set precedence for advancing case law - in that way helping the many more cases that will follow.

I'd be interested to know from those of you in the media profession, if this kind of selective highlighting of cases that are more representative of a broader group is also something the media is interested in getting. Will it make it easier for the media to understand it's importance to a wider audience, as well as help to us to reach that wider target audience as well?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Re: Keep it simple

This comment was originally posted by Kristin Antin

**This comment is from Sharon Lamwaka**

Keeping It
: I agree with Nancy. Keeping it simple is
indeed a particular challenge for human rights advocates. Simple things can be
very complex! Take for example, a Medical Doctor writing a medical report for a
torture survivor to be used in a Court of Law. If written in medical jargon that
a lawyer does not understand, the case will be thrown out of Court. This has
happened many times. Where then is the justice? The Medical Doctor nor the
Lawyer have not been helpful to a torture survivor seeking

Professionals outside the media are always
tempted to use professional jargon thinking that it will make them appear
learned, technical and skilled in their fields. They forget that the messages
that they are conveying are not meant for equally technical audiences but
ordinary people who also wish to learn many issues.

This is where simplicity comes in. In the
Ugandan context, this would mean using simple day to day language that people
will understand. For example, instead of using terms like “oedema”, why not just
say retained body fluids?

The other issue Nancy raises is volumes of
information human rights workers / media have which they come across many times
by the nature of their work. From my experience as both a media practitioner and
human rights activist, information is good but we should be extremely
CAUTIOUS how we use
that information. One therefore must be DISCIPLINED and ETHICAL enough to know when to use
particular information. What must one say and what mustn’t one say? As a
journalist, do you just give away any information because your role is to inform
the public? Even if this information causes harm, hurt and distress to

I remember sometime back, two British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalists came to ACTV. We first of all took
them through our work including telling them the sensitive nature of our work.
One of the BBC journalists, a producer very well understood the nature of our
work that during the interviews with torture clients, he was very sensitive
about what he eventually chose for broadcast. The final product was very good.
What one reports on may lead to the re-arrest and traumatisation of a torture
survivor! We have heard cases of clients being followed by perpetrators just by
being able to identify their voices on audio tapes!


Exactly very simple

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi.

It is a reality that simple messages well draftd and based on required context reach out to a wider audience than envisaged. Infact they remain memorable and make greater impact.

My observation about selective highlighting of cases that are more representative of a broader group raised by Nancy is that it leaves behind some other human rights issues even though it is what the generality desires.

One major human rights issues is the question of the rights of the minority. The minority issue may not be of interest to the broader group yet  a serious concern to the minority. How do we balance this then?

Somehow both the media and NGOs would have to strategize on this to have a balance presentation of cases/stories.


Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Trying for a balance

This comment was originally posted by Nancy Pearson. 

This question of finding a balance is not an easy one.

Mufuliat, I think BAOBAB's Mock Tribunal initiative to raise public
awareness about the many kinds of violence women have been subjected to in Nigeria
provides an excellent example of how you’ve worked to accomplish this balance.

Although there are thousands upon thousands of cases of violence against
women from which BAOBAB could highlight, there have been strategic, tactical
and very importantly practical considerations for which cases you have chosen.

For example - BAOBAB has had an intentional goal to influence public policy –
with actual legislation being passed regarding how violence against women is
addressed (strategic). The use of Mock Tribunals at the national and
subsequently state levels have provided an excellent platform to open the
discussion, gain media attention, and move people to demand this legislation
(tactical). You have had to select only a small number of the many cases to
highlight based again on strategic and tactical decisions but also based on the
practical need of accommodating, accompanying and protecting those women who
have had the ability and courage to publicly share their stories

Although the actual level of violence against women in our societies defies that
women who have experienced violence and abuse are in the “minority”, the psychological
need for the public to deny this knowledge still places these women in that
minority position.

Would you see this in the same manner that I’m interpreting this?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics
Program Manager

Trying for balance is not very easy

This comment was originally posted by Mufuliat Fijabi.

Hi Nancy, i see your line of argument quite well an dagree with you that the question of finding a balance is not an easy one but somehow we can attempt to reach out for it hoping for the best results.  

Mufuliat Dasola Fijabi

Women's Rights Advocate, Lagos Nigeria

Media Strategies

This comment was originally posted by Sharon Lamwaka.

Dear All,

 Allow me start by apologising for being away on Thurs/Frid. I was away in a sensitisation workshop for an extremely sensitive group of security operatives in my country.

That said, I would like to comment briefly on media strategies. When one speaks about engaging the media, within the media component comes along with it many strategies. As some of them have already  been discussed, it is important for an activist to know how to engage each. For example, Mufuliat spoke very well about press releases as sources of information. As one engages the different media strategies, ALWAYS know your audience because they are the final consumers of information. As such, it is also EXTREMELY important for the human rights advocate to be able to research, analyse, and evaluate information before/after it is either broadcast/published.

 For example, in my field of torture activism, things that I always look out for are: What is the age of our clients, what is their level of education, ETC. Now, how does this information help me? If our clients are between 15-40, they are youth so as youth, how best can I design information for their consumption. This kind of analysis was extremely helpful at the end of 2007 when I engaged the services of a consultant to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of my media activism. Amongst many other achievements, I would like to mention one. The consultants found out that a section of the public were able to recall the details of the message that was aired on radio including the time that the messages were aired. For me, this was testimony of the work that I had put initially into preparing  (packaging) my messages before they go out.

As this is a media discussion, I will not talk outside of media advocacy but as activists, it is worthwhile to know also that the media is one of many strategies used in human rights activism.