The country’s first television news agency run by women launched in Dhaka this week. Established with the assistance of Knight International Journalism Fellow Kawser Mahmud, the Television News Agency (TVNA) not only offers a valuable new outlet for independent news, but also gives hands-on training for aspiring young women journalists.
The agency is a joint project of Knight International and the Bangladesh Center for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC). The participants, most of them women, learn broadcast journalism skills and then produce TV stories that are sold to news outlets, often strapped for resources and staff. The founding members of the news agency are 42 young journalists and journalism students. Over the past six months, Mahmud has trained them as broadcast journalists. Fifteen have since been hired to work full time or as interns at major news channels.
TVNA, the first news agency designed to produce stories for Bangladesh’s broadcast news industry, comes at a key moment for Bangladesh. The government recently issued licenses to double the number of private television stations to 20, vastly expanding the market for TVNA stories and the hiring opportunities for its trainees.
Nayeemul Islam Khan, president of BCDJC, announced the launch at a news conference that included Abdul Kalam Azad, Bangladesh’s Minister of Information of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs; Knight Fellow Mahmud; and Elisa Tinsley, Director of the Knight International Journalism Fellowships.
In addition to learning practical journalism skills, the trainees produce in-depth stories about important issues such as child labor, nutrition, potable water shortages and the state of child-care centers and nursing homes. Some features highlight issues of interest to women, including stories of female trekkers who climbed the Himalayas. TVNA will also help women broadcast journalists produce special feature and investigative news stories to mainstream broadcasters that tend to focus on daily news.
Mahmud said that the major broadcasters are interested in more than just TVNA’s feature stories. “We thought they would only be interested in longer-form stories,” he said. “But they now say they want daily news stories, too, because they have limited resources.”
Aside from fees from the sale of stories to broadcasters, the agency will develop a video archive for subscribers. Major stations will also be able to contract with TVNA’s team of broadcast journalists to cover breaking news.
Aporno Singh, a participant in the program, now has a job with Ekushey Television Ltd (ETV). She has produced two investigative reports – one about the poor working conditions of night watchmen and another about a land scam involving Bangladesh’s poorest landholders. She credits the agency with preparing her to immediately begin work at ETV. “We are now professional,” she said.
Bilkis Nahar, the highest-ranking woman journalist in Bangladesh and the Joint News Editor of ETV, recently hired two TVNA trainees. She said it’s important for women to play a greater role in broadcast news and she hopes to serve as a role model for the young women in the industry.
She said women have not traditionally worked in broadcast news in Bangladesh because of time constraints and social pressures. “This training boosts their confidence and prepares them for a responsible position,” she said. “We want women to be journalists. … We are not weak, we can take on this challenge and we will take on this challenge."