Urals reporters get BBC tips

August 29, 1997

Russian radio and television reporters are going back to college in the Urals city of Ekaterinburg to learn the BBC art of journalism.

Broadcasting professionals from the central Urals, a vast area with a population of more than 20 million and dozens of radio and television stations, are being offered training in the editorial ethics, ethos and qualities of the BBC World Service.

Ten-week practical courses at the Urals State Technical University were launched in January and are designed to inculcate the highest standards of technical excellence, objectivity and balance in journalists who often have little or no experience of broadcasting beyond their local areas.

The three-year, Pounds 495,000 project, supported by the Soros Foundation and the British government's Know How Fund, which offers technical aid to Russia's emerging economy, is a BBC first in Russia. Similar World Service courses have been set up in Bucharest, Romania and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Russell Peasgood, BBC television trainer at Ekaterinburg and former TV news editor at BBC North in Leeds, said the Urals were chosen because they had a well-developed regional television and radio industry. The technical university offered suitable accommodation and had experience in running on-campus television as part of its distance-learning activities. University chiefs are considering using the course as a base for developing their own courses in broadcast journalism.

He said: "There's already a lot going on within Russian television in Moscow and St Petersburg and the BBC felt it would be a good idea to put the centre somewhere further east, so that it could take people from the other side of Russia, which has had less attention."

The 20 TV and radio students who attend each course are selected on the basis of their proven skills or aptitude and the likelihood that they will pass on what they learn. Igor Mishin, the head of the city's leading commercial TV station, Channel Four, is a course trustee.

Gwyneth Henderson, head of BBC World Service Training, said: "We are particularly happy about the centre in Ekaterinburg - not least because we were told we would be defeated by local bureaucracy. In the event the support we had locally ensured we were up and running in record time, and in the tenth anniversary year of the end of jamming of BBC broadcasts in Russia."

Station chiefs agree that BBC World Service training is invaluable in an extremely competitive market where high-quality local news programming is key to attracting advertising revenue. Sergei Frolov, deputy general director of Channel Four, said: "There is a constant need for experienced and professional specialists, which is why it is really very important to have such a school as the BBC World Service school here."

The courses begin with a week of classroom discussions on the principles and practice of broadcasting journalism and production. Selecting and prioritising news stories, developing sources, using human examples to emphasise the impact of news stories on people, the art of challenging, fair, concise and objective interviewing, and technical basics are covered.

Most of the rest of the course is devoted to students producing and broadcasting daily news programmes based on real events. News packages, bulletins and documentaries are produced to deadline under genuine news conditions and broadcast from radio and TV news rooms the BBC built at the university's hearing technology department.

The results, according to Mr Peasgood and Tony Howson, formerly with BBC Radio Sheffield who runs the radio course, prove how quickly bright regional journalists can learn. Students have produced radio packages on drugs and television documentaries on subjects as varied as a local soldier awarded a medal for combat heroism in Chechnya or the problem of packs of wild dogs plaguing housing estates in Ekaterinburg.

"The better packages could definitely be broadcast at home if translated into English," Mr Peasgood said.

Tanya Panchenko, 33, a reporter with a small, local-government owned TV station in Zarechny, near Ekaterinburg, said: "Now I can't stand to watch Russian television because I see how many mistakes they make."

Roman Kosnov, 34, who works on a radio station in the closed city of Novouralsk, where strategic chemical plants process uranium, said he felt more confident to be able to stand up to pressure from city authorities to avoid covering controversial issues.

"I think I will find ways of better informing my listeners as a result of having taken this course."

In the BBC's view, television and radio are such powerful mediums in a country as vast as Russia, that ensuring objectivity and an understanding of the potential for political manipulation of broadcasters is an essential component of supporting the country's transition to democracy.

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