Demonstrating the power of a free press

Samba Diamanka sitting in radio studio (Courtesy of Samba Diamanka)
Samba Diamanka of Senegal visited KCBS radio station in San Francisco on May 1 as part of a U.S. journalism exchange program. (Courtesy of Samba Diamanka)

Samba Diamanka writes for a national daily newspaper in Senegal covering politics and society. He wants to start a news site of his own someday.

On a May trip to San Francisco, he met with U.S. reporters. He said the persistence and independence of his U.S. journalist counterparts impressed him. “Here [journalism] colleagues have total freedom of expression, with a few exceptions,” he told ShareAmerica.

Diamanka was among 10 reporters from Africa who visited U.S. media outlets over several weeks as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists.

Meeting U.S. counterparts

Diamanka’s group traveled to media outlets in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Chicago. During his program, which is part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, he and the other participants explored how a free media operates in a democracy and how journalists maintain professional standards.

“At home the media is not as free as it used to be,” Diamanka said.

Ned Price at lectern speaking, group listening (State Dept./Jacob Williams)
Fellows of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists join other reporters during an on-camera, on-the-record press briefing at the State Department in 2022. Above, State Department spokesperson Ned Price, left, takes questions from the media. (State Dept./Jacob Williams)

While in Washington, Diamanka’s group visited the Foreign Press Center, where U.S. government officials take questions from reporters from other countries.

In June, another group of reporters — hailing from Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America and South America — will participate in the Murrow program.

Over the past two decades, an estimated 2,000 journalists from around the world have visited U.S. media outlets and met American counterparts as part of the Murrow program. The program honors Murrow, a prominent U.S. broadcast journalist during and after World War II who exemplified high journalism standards.

Meet two of Diamanka’s program colleagues.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Elysée Ngindu Odia

Elysée Ngindu Odia posing for portrait photo near body of water (State Dept./Blake Bergen)
Elysée Ngindu Odia of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in St. Petersburg, Florida, May 11 (State Dept./Blake Bergen)

Elysée Ngindu Odia works in broadcast media in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has hosted debates about the role of women in society.

While in Washington she met a female journalist at National Public Radio, and in Arizona she met with a former journalist who now leads a Latino advocacy organization. Both provided inspiration.

“Being a female journalist is difficult,” Odia told ShareAmerica. “Women’s freedom of expression is questioned, but things are evolving, and there are more women doing it well.”

She discussed social networks and the growing influence of artificial intelligence with journalism faculty members in Florida.

“There is confusion between being a journalist and being an influencer,” she said. “Now I know what I can do on social networks and what I should do on websites.”

South Africa: Ayanda Melansi

Ayanda Valerie Melansi posing for portrait photo by body of water (State Dept./Blake Bergen)
Ayanda Valerie Melansi of South Africa in St. Petersburg, Florida, May 11, 2023. (State Dept./Blake Bergen)

Ayanda Melansi, a radio and television producer in South Africa, wanted to learn how media compete in a digital era.

During her program, she was impressed with how publicly owned stations in the United States are able to raise funds from donors without relying upon the government or advertising.

Melansi also noted how U.S. media emphasize coverage of local news, a “hyper local” strategy that keeps citizens engaged with their community and holds local officials accountable.

“A person wants to know why their street is not being swept, and the national government does not have that answer,” she said.

Melansi said reporters need to explain how decisions that government officials make affect individuals. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “We need to keep it local.”