Thursday, October 25, 2012
'I am obsessed with Journalism. The training sessions are such a good way to convey my experience to young journalists', Jack Kroes explains his motivation for his mission in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Kroes, a dedicated Free Press Unlimited trainer, travelled through Macedonia, the Ukraine, Kosovo, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Tajikistan, to train local television journalists. Read all about his experiences in the blogs he has written for Free Press Unlimited.

By: Jack Kroes, Free Press Unlimited trainer.

Tursunzade in Tajikistan is not exactly a place you would visit as a tourist. Even though it is located in a wonderful gorge, situated in the western Gissar Valley, not far from the border with Afghanistan. Most decent restaurants have been built in the valley, overhanging several beautiful little streams running through the gorge. The city itself - situated 57 kilometres from the capital Dushanbe – is rather dusty, not to mention: dirty. Concrete house blocks are a reminder of the Soviet era. Tursunzade's streets are mostly unpaved. Some detached houses are hidden behind grey cement fences.

The majority of the city's inhabitants work in a giant aluminium factory, located just outside of the city. The factory is very modern, built with technical support of a Dutch concern.

Turzunsade's citizens have no access to newspapers, magazines or radio. Their only source of information is the local television station. In this remote part of Central Asia, I am assisting the local television station in making a business plan. I am also training their manager, camera crew and journalists.

These journalists consist mainly out of young, very friendly girls. They're wearing elegant head scarves and bright coloured dresses on top of their jeans. They're shy and fond of laughing. Authentic girls, you wouldn't even encounter on the Dutch countryside nowadays.

I'm wondering whether the girls had already made a news item about the aluminium factory. They surely did. The girls tell me they made a report about the factory's aluminium museum, they interviewed the new manager to ask him about his plans for the future. Furthermore, the girls interviewed the factory's magazine editor in chief.

We're discussing things like environmental pollution, job related illnesses and the emissions of aluminium toxics. The latter possibly forms a hazard to the health of factory workers and citizens living in surrounding neighbourhoods.

On the internet the girls are doing research about the illnesses that might be related with aluminium. In their search, they are discovering a possible correlation between aluminium and skin diseases, hazards to the nervous system and impotence. In addition, the young editors visit the two local hospitals and meet specialists and doctors. A small epidemiological investigation.

The doctors are confirming what the girls discovered on the web: the diseases possibly related with aluminium occur more often in the area than anywhere in the country. A correlation between these diseases and aluminium seems obvious.

Proudly the girls are showing me their footage. It contains the critical discussions they had with the factory's management, images of patients in hospitals with skin diseases and many people with neurological health issues. And what about impotence? I ask them. Their cheeks turn beautifully red underneath their bright coloured scarves. Their eyes cast down, fixed at the ground. An awkward silence sets in.

Bothering the most significant employer in a former Soviet Republic with critical questions about job related illnesses and environmental pollution definitely takes a lot of courage. But making a television program about impotence on the other hand.. The heroic girls humbly bend down their heads, looking powerless.