Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists and this trainers’ manual grew out of the Internews Global Human Rights Program, which builds the capacity of journalists in developing countries to report on human rights issues.

Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists is a resource for journalists reporting on human rights issues, especially for those working in areas of war or conflict, or in post-conflict situations where human rights violations continue to occur. It can be used as a stand-alone resource for journalists; however, it works best when it has been incorporated into in-person training. It is not a training course in its own right, but should be treated as a guide that supports and enhances trainings.

This trainers’ manual aims to help trainers integrate the toolkitinto short courses (2 weeks) for beginning and practicing journalists who want to learn about human rights reporting, or who want to improve their human rights reporting skills. Because the toolkit is global in scope and therefore necessarily considers human rights issues through a broad lens, it is essential that trainers contextualize the content and incorporate local examples throughout the course.

Both the toolkit and the training are divided into three modules:

  • Thematic: Human rights and the international human rights system;
  • Journalism:  ethics, values, principles, theory and practice;
  • Practical Guide: gathering information, writing (text and scripts), pitching and production.

Overview of the Internews methodology

This methodology draws some lessons from other organizations working on human rights reporting worldwide, but is primarily based on Internews’ own experience.

  • It builds on trainees’ existing experience, adding (i) new content knowledge (about human rights/a particular human rights theme; for example, gender); (ii) journalism theory and practice, and (iii) technical skills.
  • We encourage trainees to discuss and reflect on their own and others’ experience and work. Trainers should contextualize and localize content to ensure trainees understand how their situation relates to the larger picture.
  • The training environment is practical, with equipment (recorders, computers, still and video cameras, mobile phones, etc.) for practical technical work. The training provides concrete, real-life experience: trainees go into the field to gather material (conduct interviews; research) and craft their stories. Trainees produce a story for the platform of their choice – a print piece, a radio program, a documentary, an online multimedia piece, etc. We also use role plays to reinforce learning.
  • Trainings should incorporate reflection on the training experience, outputs and what has been learned.

What’s inside the toolkit?

Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists is the core resource for trainees. It is:

A reference

The toolkit is a human rights reference guide. In order to tackle human rights issues, a basic knowledge of human rights is necessary. One of the most common criticisms of media in this sphere is that they present human rights violations as isolated incidents, without helping audiences understand the broader human rights context. The legal framework and international covenants can be challenging to understand, and accuracy (especially in the often-heated human rights arena) is essential. The Internet is a good place to begin to research human rights issues, but in developing countries Internet access is unreliable, media outlets are under-resourced and journalists may not always have access to their own computer terminal. Having a hard copy of the toolkit in the newsroom makes it possible for journalists to refer to it again and again, to be sure that they have correctly understood a particular issue or right and are explaining it properly in their stories.

A collection of journalism tools and guidelines

In addition to journalism theory, we include guidelines and tips for assessing sources; interviewing a variety of different people – victims, officials, perpetrators; and using anonymous sources. We also include a step-by-step guide to writing a good human rights story. Trainers should encourage trainees to read and re-read the relevant guides and tips before conducting interviews, pitching their stories, writing and so on.

Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists has four sections:

Section 1 – Human rights knowledge

Section 1 introduces human rights, the UN System and the international justice system.

Section 2 – Journalism understandings, skills and tools

Here we work through the values and skills of the profession, and some of the specific skills needed to tackle human rights issues.

Section 3 – Guide for practical application

Here we provide a step-by-step guide to producing a good human rights story.

Section 4 – Appendices

This section contains summaries of the major human rights treaties and conventions, lists of countries who have (or have not) acceded to them and several additional resources for journalists reporting on human rights issues.

How the toolkit and the trainers’ manual work together

This trainers’ manual has three modules, following the flow of the toolkit:

  • Module 1: Human rights knowledge
  • Module 2: Journalism theory and practice
  • Module 3: Practical skills

The training curriculum set out in this guide encourages the trainer to use the toolkit as the key resource for presentation, discussion and exercises. Throughout the training, trainees will refer to the toolkit, read sections and use space to complete exercises and jot down notes and useful information for future reference.

Who are the trainers?

The training methodology requires deep understanding of the local situation; therefore, ideally, all trainers will come from the country where the training is taking place. All trainers will be experienced and will be able to adapt and localize the toolkit for local situations, skill level and cultural context.

The course requires a minimum of three trainers:

  • Lead journalism trainer: an experienced journalism trainer, preferably with a background in covering human rights issues for media, who will coordinate the course and lead sessions on journalism (Modules 2 and 3).
  • A human rights expert with training experience who can give explain human rights issues (Module 1), including:
    • The international human rights system: its history; the conventions and what they mean; monitoring and policing; the UN system.
    • The local human rights system, including what conventions have been signed; compliance or lack of compliance; how the international and national legal systems interact; local examples of gains and violations across the main human rights areas (democracy, freedom from torture, the right to a free trial, freedom of expression, gender, children and youth, disability, migrant workers and so on.)
    • Local perceptions of human rights, attitudes and the main controversies.
    • Local media coverage of human rights.
  • A technical trainer. The training course uses PowerPoint and video. It requires trainees to generate at least one story in their choice of media – print, radio, TV, video, online. Trainees will be working with computers, the Internet, cameras, recorders, a variety of computer communication and editing software. The role of the technical trainer will be to work with the journalism trainer, build trainees’ technical capacity as needed, teach online and digital safety skills and make sure that all the technology works for both trainers and trainees throughout the duration of the course.

What other external resources should the trainer/s draw on?

Human rights (Module 1)

One or more senior, experienced people – preferably with field or counselling experience – from one or more local or international human rights NGOs. Examples include Save the Children; Article 19/Freedom of Expression; any of the UN agencies, like UNESCO, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, local organizations working on rape and other forms of violence against women; lesbian, gay and transgender rights; sex workers’ rights; disability; democracy, etc. Brief speakers carefully to cover:

  • The status of the relevant human rights issues in the country where the training is taking place.
  • The international and national legal situation.
  • Their perception of how media covers the relevant issues. What do media/journalists do that is right/good and wrong/bad?
  • How their organization currently uses/works with media.
  • How they would like to work with media and can be helpful to journalists and their stories

Journalism (Modules 2 and 3)

A respected local journalist who has covered human rights issues in the country where the training is taking place. Brief the journalist to select two or three examples of stories s/he has covered and to speak about them, taking trainees from story selection through information gathering to publication. The journalist’s input (presentation or talk) should be lively and anecdotal. If possible, ask the journalist to use a “show and tell” approach and to bring along short TV/video clips/any audio of interviews or stories that were broadcast/copies of print stories to demonstrate process and output.

Request that the invited journalists prepare answers to the following questions:

  • Where did you get the idea for your most recent human rights story?
  • Do you have a network of sources that you meet with regularly to tip you off to important stories?
  • What sources did you contract for background information on the story?
  • What unexpected leads did you discover while interviewing these sources?
  • What challenges did you encounter during the interview process?
  • How did you address them?
  • How did you develop the narrative structure for the story?
  • Did you conduct follow-up stories?  Do you regularly cover a specific human rights topic to show evolving trends?
  • What was the impact of your initial story?  Of any follow-up stories?

The editor/news editor of a respected media outlet (newspaper, radio station, TV or online publication). During training, trainees will think of a story idea and pitch it to the editor. The editor will agree/disagree, and guide the trainees about how to follow up (give ideas, possible contacts, angles, etc.).

NGO leader/Activist to present at a mock media conference on a key local human rights issue. This is a useful exercise and trainers are encouraged to set it up. See Appendix H for guidelines.

Other ideas for input will emerge as you plan the course

Here are some examples from previous training:

  • Invite an organization that works with rape survivors to discuss the do’s and don’ts of interviewing rape survivors. A rape survivor accompanies the representative
  • Invite a person living with disability to speak about the experience of being disabled in the local context (stigma, access, exclusion). Suggest trainees interview the person.
  • Invite the leader of a local ethnic group that is experiencing exclusion/racism to speak about the impact on the community.
  • Invite a gender activist to speak about the portrayal of women and LGBTI people in the media and how media can either further entrench or help combat stereotypes. 
  • Invite a young ex-combatant from a recent conflict to explain their perspective on human rights, both as a perpetrator and victim.
  • Invite a local police officer to discuss the police’s legal responsibility to human rights violations reported by journalists and others.

Challenges for trainers

The challenge for trainers will be to pitch the course at a level that is:

Local – all material must be localized so that it is relevant to the trainees’ unique situation.

Appropriate – taking into account trainees’ background, current situations, experience and future needs.

Challenging and stimulating – the language of human rights, the treaties and the international human rights system can be rather dry. The human rights expert especially will have to break up sessions creatively with discussion and debate.

Useful – both for those who have experience of human rights reporting and for those who do not.

Equipment and materials

Trainees should be encouraged to bring

  • Stories/recordings of their work that they would like to discuss in the course.
  • Notebook and pens
  • Mobile phones with airtime.
  • Any other equipment the trainer believes is necessary for the course.

To be provided by course provider

  • PowerPoint projector and screen.
  • Flip charts, newsprint and marker pens.
  • White board, non-permanent markers; white board cleaner.
  • Folders, including background to the course; mini-biographies of trainers and trainees; information about methodology; course outline; any handouts to be used during the course and feedback forms.
  • Printed versions of Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists – one per trainee.  
  • Laptop/notebook computers – one per trainee or to be shared.
  • Flash-drives (memory sticks) – one per trainee – with toolkit downloaded and any other articles about human rights/useful material needed for exercises and the course (especially local information). Note: Trainees will take away the flash drives for future use and may download/add additional information to the flash drives during the course. To facilitate the trainers’ work and trainees’ participation, it may be useful to prepare a short handout explaining the contents of the flash drive. All files should be carefully selected and properly named or numbered for easy reference during the training, for exmaple:
    • Reporting on Human Rights Issues: A Toolkit for Journalists
    • Exercise 1 – Disability Feature for Analysis
    • YouTube clip – What are Human Rights?
    • BBC training guide: Interviewing perpetrators of human rights abuses
    • Columbia Universal Periodic Review 2009
  • Broadcast-quality digital audio recorders, flip cameras, computers (based on the trainees’ media platform)
  • Equipment/software needed for media production (editing, reviewing, downloading etc.).
  • Daily newspapers / recorded clips from TV and radio of current human rights stories.

Note:The final equipment list will depend on whether the course is mixed (radio, print, TV, etc.) or single media format.

Accommodation and logistics preparation

For a residential course

  • Book accommodation, including group training venue and at least two break-away rooms (for group work and production). Be sensitive to needs of women
  • Ensure accommodation kitchen is aware of any specific dietary requirements
  • Ensure people with disabilities have access and can be accommodated.
  • Negotiate terms of accommodation (number of people per room; use of facilities like telephone/mini-bar/room service; clarify what is/isn’t allowed and what charges will be billed to Internews, what to trainees).
  • Prepare agenda and ensure accommodation is aware of daily course start and finish times; tea and coffee breaks; any evening sessions.

Travel arrangements

  • Confirm transport arrangements of trainees travelling to venue from other areas/towns.
  • Prepare map and directions to hotel; circulate to trainees.

For a non-residential course

  • Book venue and at least two break-away rooms (for group work and production)
  • Ensure access for people with disabilities.
  • Arrange for provision of lunches and tea and coffee, taking into account any special dietary requirements of trainees.

Travel arrangements

  • Confirm transport arrangements of trainees and ensure start/finish times are sensitive to these.
  • Prepare map and directions to venue; circulate to trainees.

Tips from experience

  • Explain the methodology and content of training at the start of the course.
  • Prepare for emotional responses as you explore human rights in the local context. Many trainees may themselves have suffered human rights abuses, or have family members or friends who have had their rights violated.
  • Prepare for argument. The notion of universal human rights is controversial; not all cultures and communities may agree, for example, with some aspects of gender equality, lesbian/gay/transgender rights or children’s rights.
  • Plan rest and social time.
  • Be extra careful to ensure equipment is working and can produce good quality output. Poor or faulty technology destabilizes the learning environment, undermines confidence of trainees and wastes time.
  • Ensure that invited experts are well-briefed and have a Plan B that you can put into action if the expert fails to turn up.
  • Ensure logistics are in place. During training, trainees will have to go out and get their stories. They will need transport, mobile phone airtime, recorders, etc.