When fact and fiction collide

Monday 19 March 2012, 17:32

Sulakshana Gupta Sulakshana Gupta Senior Project Manager

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Three days, 22 people from BBC Media Action offices around the world and countless stories. The second Ignite Workshop in London found us at the Southbank Centre, which graciously hosted us for the second year running. Ignite is linked to the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World (WOW) Festival which is also in its second year and brings together inspiring women from different parts of the world for three days of music, film and debate.

Ignite is a platform where our staff can interact with the rest of the BBC to soak up the creativity the mothership has to offer.

This year Ignite brought together radio producers, creative directors and programme managers from all its country programmes for three days of exercises on storytelling, pitching new ideas and making audience interactive programming. This was topped off with sessions from the producers of Being Human and Stargazing Live, two recently successful BBC programmes. The first explores everyday life through the eyes of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who just happen to be flat mates. The second is an excellent example of how a potentially dry topic like astronomy can be made engaging.

Being Human in particular sparked off some crazy ideas in the group, like creating a TV drama based on the life of an HIV-positive vampire!

It’s been five years since I last lived in India. But it made me incredibly proud to see some of the innovations BBC Media Action’s India office had pioneered. They’ve managed to make family planning a buzz word by designing a campaign around the idea of ‘fewer children being profitable’. At the same time, they’ve made talking about sputum cool by creating an oddball, pinstriped mascot of a man who goes around encouraging people to have their sputum tested for tuberculosis. Radharani Mitra, the National Creative Director from the India office reaffirmed my faith in humour as one of the best creative tools at our disposal.

I’ve worked with BBC Media Action for two years, in Sierra Leone and now in South Sudan. Neither are particularly easy places to be a journalist, especially when talking about culturally sensitive issues. But hearing Amina Abdirashid, project manager for Somalia based in our Nairobi office talk about the intimidation journalists face in Somalia made me feel humble and grateful for where I am. As Senior Project Manager for a Maternal and Child Health project, I feel responsible for the safety of our producers and journalists in South Sudan. Sometimes they get pulled over for taking photos, or harassed at check points. Amina’s staff members have their lives threatened on a regular basis. One of the station managers of a partner radio station was recently murdered. I am in awe of the challenges she and her team face every single day and all the more mindful that our first responsibility is to try and keep our staff safe.

When I found out that I had been selected to be one of the speakers at WOW this year, I stared vainly at the online programme with my name of it for about a week before it sunk in that I would be representing the BBC. As I said to a roomful of colleagues at Bush House, I hope I don’t sound like a complete twit. On Saturday March 10, I shared a WOW panel with some extraordinary women, in particular Erin Pizzey, who founded the first women’s shelter in the UK. She talked about the fact that she never planned to be an activist and her struggle trying to convince people to take domestic violence seriously.

As for my talk, it was called ‘Mariama, Rosaline, Freetown’ two stories of extraordinary women I met in my time in Sierra Leone. One is Mariama Khai Fornah, a courageous journalism trainer who still works for BBC Media Action in Freetown. The other is Rosaline Kombo Kamara, Freetown’s only woman taxi driver. Both stories portray young women, fighting gender stereotypes in a male dominated society.

I wanted to come back from Ignite and WOW feeling inspired and proud of the work we do at BBC Media Action. I do. I loved Radharani’s sign off at the end of the three day workshop. “I feel pregnant with creativity and ideas,” she said. Let ideas be born.

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    Comment number 1.

    Reading your stories, the faces you paint in your stories and the people you have interacted with, gives me a much needed psyche to continue and further the work of journalism, especially just as in Somalia, in South Sudan where many people, including those least likely to harm reporters (the people themselves), are unaware of the role we journalists play, that we try and are here to serve their best interests. How we know what is best for them is entirely based on our personal biases for a better people and future, but most importantly because we are closer to the people we report about. It is difficult enough to tell stories in simple ways for people in many parts of Africa to understand, creativity therefore in my opinion is much more tricky to employ as a narrative technique as a whole to tell stories to some audiences on the continent, including South Sudan. But its very much do-able and can be very satisfying many times....

 

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