JHR in South Sudan: Why it matters

 By Erica Howes Kayla Hounsell, a JHR trainer, takes us into a South Sudanese TV newsroom

Kayla giving notes to one of the anchors after the newscast.
Kayla giving notes to one of the anchors after the newscast. (Photo by Grant McDonald)

In this year’s fall semester, our Carleton chapter of JHR raised just more than $830 for projects in South Sudan. After a month of working in South Sudan as a JHR trainer, Kayla Hounsell, CTV reporter and Carleton graduate, shared stories of government-controlled newsrooms and the extreme restrictions on press freedom. She shed light on where that $830 is going and why it really matters.

Kayla spoke about her experience and struggles inside the newsroom of Juba’s TV station, coincidentally called CTV (Citizen Television). The station only had one transportation vehicle, which made the choice of stories limited. Reporters received press releases from the government, which ended with “your attendance is expected,” meaning there was no choice but to write a story on it. Although Kayla said they’re led to believe the South Sudanese government supports press freedom, when the government is in control of which stories are broadcasted, is it really freedom at all?

[Tweet: Kayla Hounsell speaking to JHR members]

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, with only four years under its belt. After gaining its independence in 2011, a civil war shortly followed and hasn’t let up. Kayla said this dominates much of the newscast and each broadcast ends with a comment about striving for peace. But Kayla said with the work of JHR, media development is happening. On Fridays in the Juba-based CTV newsroom, Kayla said there were rarely government events so she took the opportunity to use it as a day to teach the journalists (who had limited journalism experience) on how to cover authentic news. By the end of her month, the crew had reported on a human rights story about the unsafe conditions of “stone breakers,” and gained a greater understanding of what human rights coverage looks like. This is among many of JHR’s success stories. In her free time in Juba and since returned home, Kayla has written extensively about her experience and even found many Canadian connections stories which are published on her home CTV Atlantic site here.

While we were proud of the $830 we fundraised last semester, it’s hard to understand the significance of funds sent an ocean away to a country that’s only existed for a couple years. The money we raised will go towards reporting workshops and professional mentorship sessions, providing journalists with the skills and equipment they need to produce the stories that need to be covered.

Kayla emphasized that through the support of JHR, newsrooms in South Sudan are able to break away from their puppet-like role controlled by the government, and were able to cover human rights stories. Essentially, they are able to report on the news. Journalists for Human Rights is about mobilizing media and changing lives, and from Kayla’s talk it was evident that the work JHR is doing in South Sudan is having a positive impact. JHR’s work is allowing journalists in South Sudan to do their job and report on the news, which in turn is empowering to us because it reminds us that we, a group of Carleton students interested in journalism and human rights, are part of that change.

The BRCA mutation gene and Preventive Surgery

By: Zoe Chong

Lianne Degen was 23 years old when she received a life-saving letter from her father’s cousin informing her that the BRCA2 gene mutation existed in her family. After getting tested, Degen found out that she, too, had inherited a bad copy of the BRCA gene.

This meant Degen was estimated to have up to an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and up to a 20 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

An average woman has up to an 11 per cent risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Inheriting a BRCA mutation, which can occur in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, only accounts for about five to 10 per cent of breast cancers.

Degen said she looked at these statistics and initially chose to undergo screening, which included annual mammograms and MRIs. Six years later, she said she received a false-positive MRI result that prompted her to make the decision to get preventive surgery.

Degen underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy, the removal of both her breasts, at 29 years old. This surgery reduced her risk of breast cancer to fewer than five per cent.

The decision to undergo this surgery is a growing trend among women who have a BRCA mutation. The increasing prominence of BRCA mutations has launched preventive surgery into the spotlight, especially following Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo the same surgery after testing positive for a mutation in the BRCA1 gene.

While Jolie has faced overwhelmingly positive reactions for her brave decision to undergo preventive surgery, Degen said there are people who believe her decision was an overreaction to a diagnosis that doesn’t guarantee cancer.

Degen said she was very open about her decision to undergo preventive surgery, telling everyone she came into contact with and blogging about every step of her surgery. This openness left Degen exposed to harsh comments from people questioning her decision. One comment that Degen said still sticks in her head is, “Why would you butcher yourself?”

Forty-two-year-old Sharon Cox, a BRCA1 mutation carrier, said these comments are due to a lack of knowledge on the issue. Cox said she underwent a hysterectomy, removal of the uterus, and a mastectomy when her mother tested positive for the gene mutation after surviving four bouts of cancer.

If her mother had known about being a carrier earlier, she might have been able to have the surgeries that could have prolonged her life, said Cox. Her mother lost her battle against cancer this year.

Cox said she had to continuously justify her decisions to her friends and family, who didn’t understand why she would make such a drastic choice. For her, the decision to undergo preventive surgery was about empowerment, not victimization.

“My mother had cancer five times and I probably would’ve had the same thing happen to me,” she said. “Now I’m probably never going to get breast or ovarian cancer.”

Degen said she thinks people find it hard to digest the idea of preventive surgery because when women actually have a cancer diagnosis, “surgery is a no-brainer,” whereas a mutation carrier may never suffer from cancer.

The decision to undergo preventive surgery, however, is still a life-changing one.

Cara Scharf, 28, said the decision to undergo preventive surgery is a uniquely personal one – one she decided against when she tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation after graduating from university at 22.

Scharf lost her mother to breast cancer when she was only three years old and her maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was born, both of which were BRCA-related.

“To me, at first, it was like facing my own mortality,” Scharf said. “This is how I’m going to die and that’s a really terrible thing to think about when you’re only 22.”

Scharf said she was faced with questions about what she needed to do to jumpstart her life – “I’ve got to figure out what my career’s going to be, who I’m going to marry, when I’m going to have kids,” – all of which she didn’t think she’d have to ask herself at such a young age.

The protocol at the time was to start screening at 25 years old, so Scharf said she put this diagnosis at the back of her mind and lived the next three years without much change.

When Scharf went for her first baseline screening, she said her MRI picked up a tumour. “I went into it thinking it was just going to be nothing and when they actually told me I had breast cancer, it was really hard to believe,” she said.

When Scharf first found out she held the mutated gene, she said she thought removing her breasts was too drastic an option for her age. “I thought that I had time.”

This false idea that there is time, Degen said, emphasizes the need to be proactive.

“It doesn’t have to be a terminal thing,” Degen said, when it comes to breast cancer. “When it’s terminal, it’s usually not caught in time. And that’s what’s really sad and that’s why I’m such an advocate for screening.”

According to researchers, wait times for preventive surgery can reach up to three years in B.C. The research showed that the wait times for preventive surgery were so long that women end up getting breast cancer before the surgery date.

The medical system in Canada understandably prioritizes women who have an active cancer, and women looking to get preventive surgery are forced to wait significantly longer for their surgeries, said Dr. Kirsty Boyd, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction.

Boyd is part of a same-day mastectomy and reconstruction program at the Ottawa Hospital’s Riverside site once a month, geared towards providing better service to women who decide to get preventive surgery.

Dr. James Watters, the medical director of the Women’s Breast Health Centre at the Ottawa Hospital, said this program has reduced wait times for preventive surgeries, which were typically up to a year or more, to within three or four months.

The long wait times are “very tough for women who’ve made this difficult and important decision to undergo surgery, and then we have to tell them you have to wait,” said Watters.

Boyd said Cancer Care Ontario has mandated surgery wait times for women who have cancer to within four weeks, but there is no such mandate for women with a BRCA mutation.

And Scharf’s experience is living proof that a lot can happen in a few years.

“It’s important for women to have access to digestible information that isn’t just full of medical jargon,” said a counsellor at Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada, a non-profit organization that provides free support and information to individuals affected by breast cancer and BRCA mutations.

The Willow counsellor, who’s also a mutation carrier, said women are faced with a mix of emotions when they are diagnosed with the mutation and need support from women who’ve experienced the same thing.

“Grief is a large part of getting your diagnosis. You grieve for yourself, and you grieve for your children if you’re a mother. And if you get the surgeries, you grieve for your body and what you’re losing with that,” she said.

It’s important for women to have support when they’re making these life-changing decisions, she said.

While she said she’s not ready for them yet, the subject of babies has been on Scharf’s mind. On one hand, Scharf said she’s against passing on her faulty gene to her children, but the idea of not having children of her own devastates her.

Scharf decided to freeze her embryos when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, after being prompted by her father, who’s a doctor.

“I love my family and I don’t want to perpetuate this terrible fortune we have so why wouldn’t I take every step that I could to make sure that I’m the last person in my family line who has to deal with this.”

Scharf said this is her way of taking control over the gene that gave her cancer and took the lives of her mother and grandmother.

The support from services like Willow provides women with the necessary information that will help them make an informed decision when it comes to preventive surgery, said the Willow counsellor.

Unlike Scharf, who had her father, not all women have people in their life to provide them with the right information.

Although Scharf said she still believes preventive surgery is a drastic option, she emphasized how “everybody has a different threshold for how much risk they’re willing to accept.”

“I didn’t get the surgeries and then I got breast cancer, so who’s to say that just because a woman doesn’t already have breast cancer that this isn’t a good idea,” Scharf said.

Cox said it was a big lesson for her to let people be who they are and make their own decisions regarding preventive surgery. She said she learnt that it wasn’t her job to preach or push her own decisions on others.

In the end, Degen, now 34, said her decision to remove her breasts, and soon her ovaries, is a uniquely personal decision and there are many alternatives to surgery available for those with a BRCA mutation.

“What it really comes down to are risks I’m willing to live with and risks I’m not willing to live with,” she said. “I’m not willing to live with my breasts and I’m not willing to live with my ovaries past a point.”

University of Winnipeg: Students want better access to mental health services

By: Lindsay Campbell

The last two months of school have been very hectic for Jesse Blackman, a student at the University of Winnipeg.

Since late September, students at the university have been organizing a campaign advocating for improved access to mental health services on campus. This has created a tense dynamic between the student body and the university’s administration.

In a matter of two months, the student movement has been able to draft a petition with more than 1,050 student signatures, demanding the hiring of three full-time counsellors.

Student protestors have made more than 350 calls to the university’s executive director of wellness as well as the office of the president, expressing their concerns, according to Blackman, the Canadian Federation of Students liaison director for the University of Winnipeg Student Association.

The university’s counsellor-to-student ratio of 1:10,000 is at an overwhelming high, says Blackman. The hiring of two additional full time counsellors would shorten the waitlist and provide students with more access to services.

“We have only have one general counsellor, who has a wait time of six weeks,” explains Blackman. “The majority of student mental health needs such as depression, anxiety, exam stress and eating disorders all fall under the purview of general counselling. That being said, it is clear that general counselling accessibility is paramount.”

The American based International Association of Counselling Services recommends a counsellor-to-student ratio at any post-secondary institution of 1:1,500, and says that having a ratio above that guideline poses a number of risks for students. According to the IACS, these risks include a longer waitlist, difficulty in providing services to students experiencing an increased variety of psychological issues and decreased support of student’s academic success.

A study conducted by the U.S.-based Association of University and College Counselling Centres indicates that internationally, 69 per cent of students said counselling helped their academic performance. With a ratio above the expected guideline, fewer students will benefit from the counselling services.

At Carleton University, students who use its mental health services on campus only face a maximum wait of four weeks, says Maureen Murdock, director of Carleton’s health and counselling services.

“Many students get frustrated because they have to wait three to four weeks to see a counsellor during our busy times,” Murdock says. “We could always use more counsellors. A lot of students would like to come for longer periods of time, but most of the time if a student has a very serious problem, we will try to see them immediately.”

Brock Wilson, a fourth year student at Carleton, can attest to this. During his first year of university, Wilson found his roommate in an inebriated state after an attempted suicide.

“I found him in our room and had to call an ambulance and take him to the hospital,” he explains. “Needless to say it was very traumatizing, but Carleton was very good with the way it reacted to my situation.”

Wilson says Carleton introduced him to its counselling services and it was a very positive experience.

“I was able to see a counsellor right away,” says Wilson. “I think I saw her three times. We talked about my feelings on the issue and debriefed the whole situation. It was a very cathartic experience for me. She gave me her card and told me she would be available to talk to me almost whenever.”

Although Carleton also sits below the recommended counsellor to student ratio at 1:3,600, the school has been moving in the right direction by making improvements to its mental health services over the past few years.

Along with the implementation of a two-year fall break trial which began in the 2013 fall semester, the university added two full-time counsellors to its staff after a student-led referendum this past year. Both have been successful attempts to treat mental health issues in the student community.

“There was an overwhelming response from the students to hire extra counsellors,” says Murdock. “I think that even if they aren’t using the services themselves, students are able to recognize the importance of having access to counselling services for their peers.”

Michael Kirby, former chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, says that he has seen universities bolstering their services.

“Universities are now devoting a lot more attention and resources to dealing with the mental health of students and that’s a very positive step forward, “says Kirby. “Obviously more needs to be done, but the simple fact that mental health is now on the agenda of every university president, when it never was five, six, seven years ago, is a huge step forward.”

Although Kirby believes the system is headed in the right direction, he encourages students to pressure the university administration to make those changes.

“Until we get mental health treated the same way that cancer, heart disease and diabetes are treated, the system won’t ever be right,” he adds. “Universities have a long ways to go, but if people keep pushing that’s also a very good thing. I would encourage students to keep doing that because that’s the way change will be made in the system.”

In Winnipeg, Blackman says that is exactly what the student body intends to do if the university fails to meet its demands.

“Inadequate counselling services are not new at this institution, and ultimately the University of Winnipeg drastically fails to meet the general counselling needs of students,” Blackman explains. “If something is not done about this, students will continue to organize, disrupt the administration’s operation and garner media attention to a very clear-cut service provision issue.”

Manspreading: An Issue of Courtesy

By: Anna Sophia Vollmerhausen

The current social movement du jour is manspreading — when a man sits with his legs spread apart on public transit. By doing so, he often takes up more than one seat.

Manspreading has received considerable attention on social media, with both Twitter and Tumblr being used to post pictures of those engaging in the act.

The popularity of the issue has also resulted in various transit organizations launching campaigns centered around manspreading.

In December 2014, New York’s Metropolitan Transport Authority rolled out a campaign featuring the slogan, “Dude…Stop the Spread, Please,” in an effort to address the issue.

Around the same time, there was also growing support in Toronto from those who felt the city should have a similar campaign targeting manspreaders.

In response to that, a petition sponsored by the Canadian Association for Equality was created, which called manspreading a “sexist term.”

The petition claimed “men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology,” adding that “it’s physically painful for men to close their legs.”

The petition also went on to ask the question if “we can’t force woman to stop breast feeding on buses or trains and we can’t force men or women to stop bringing strollers on, why should we force men to close their legs?”

The answer to that question is simple: because only one of those things is actually rude and inconveniences your fellow passengers (and it isn’t women breastfeeding in public).

As a university student who regularly uses public transit, I can attest to the fact that, more often than not, men do seem to sit with their legs further apart than women.

It’s not uncommon to see a guy slouched down with his legs spread wide open, while a girl is perched on the seat next to him, trying to avoid taking up too much space.

That’s not to say that all men engage in manspreading, or even that they are the only ones guilty of this.

However, men need to stop viewing manspreading as something that they are entitled to do. Just because I can use an empty seat to hold my bag, doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to do so.

The same goes for taking up as much space as you can on the bus with your widespread legs.

While it’s true that people should be able to sit however they want on public transit, it does not mean that you have the right to deliberately occupy the largest possible amount of space.

At its heart, manspreading is an issue of common courtesy — something that is often lacking on public transit.

Essay: The Bang Bang Club Takes Aim at the Integrity of Conflict Photojournalists

By: Evelyn Harford

“What do you think makes a photograph great?”

South African radio jockey four-years after The Bang Bang Club began documenting the “Hidden War” in apartheid South Africa asks this question, loaded with ethical pitfalls to award-winning photojournalist Kevin Carter, in The Bang Bang Club’s opening scene.

“I don’t know really,” he says taking a pause. “You take the picture and see what you have later…maybe what makes a great picture is one that asks a question. It’s not just a picture. It’s more than that… You go out and you see bad things, evil things and you want to do something about it. So, what you do is you take the picture that shows it.”

Carter’s eventual reply during The Bang Bang Club’s conclusion bookends the film. Between these key scenes the viewer is left to navigate a complicated ethical landscape for his/herself with no cinematic guidance.

The Bang Bang Club directed by Steven Silver premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 received less than favorable ratings on Rotten Tomato and IMDb. The Bang Bang Club profiles four conflict photojournalists, Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and João Silva working for the leading Johannesburg newspaper, The Star between 1990-94, in the lead up to the first free elections in apartheid South Africa. The conditions leading up to the first free and fair elections were violent and horrific. The Bang Bang Club, a term coined by South African Living magazine captured arguably the most significant turning point in South Africa’s history.

The Bang Bang Club damages the reputation of human rights documentarians. The film paints The Bang Bang Club members as extensions of a neo-colonial machine and diminishes their role in defining and documenting history. While underlying plot lines of romance, drugs and suicide make for good reviews in Hollywood it does not do justice to the subjects upon which the film was based.

Just as a soldier pulls a trigger with a purpose to kill, the conflict photojournalist points their weapon, a camera lens-clicking the shutter, shooting a purposeful non-lethal retaliation against human rights abuses. There is a bi-directional relationship between those shooting rounds of ammunition, and the photojournalists shooting rolls of film. To separate the photojournalists from the conflict, and the victims they shoot by an invisible barrier of privilege does their entire life’s work an injustice. This film detaches emotional connection between the photographer and their subjects.

The film’s critical flaws stem from Silver’s divergence from the narrative expressed in the book, The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War written by real life characters Marinovich and Silva. This autobiography published in 2000, chronicles the lives of The Bang Bang Club members and should have provided Silver with a solid base for his film. The autobiography contextualizes and emphasizes the photojournalists’ story within the larger, highly politicized landscape of apartheid South Africa. It is a successful representation of life as a conflict photojournalist-unlike the highly glamorized Hollywood version put forth by Silver.

After being recommended this film in an undergraduate photojournalism class I was eager to go home and watch it. I figured that this film, based on the true story of Marinovich and Silva would do justice to both black and white South Africans and give insight into the ethical dilemmas faced everyday by working conflict photojournalists.

In a 2011 interview with CNN, Silver indicated that, “It was important to me that the story was not about apartheid, not about South Africa,” he said. “It was about four young white men … and the choices they made.”

This statement shook me to the core. If it were not for the injustices caused by institutionalized racism in apartheid South Africa-the photojournalists would not be there in the first place. The story was about the plight of South Africans, particularly black South Africans victimized by the horrifically violent, institutionally racist human rights abusers within the de Klerk government. It was these injustices documented by The Bang Bang Club, which makes this story captivating and relevant to humanity.

The larger narrative in apartheid South Africa was not about the “young white men” taking pictures of the poor segregated black South Africans.

The photojournalists in The Bang Bang Club were serious, emotionally invested men documenting human rights abuses, not simply a boys club of adrenaline junkie, wild-men as depicted in the film. Carter’s confession in the film’s conclusion provided a much-needed insight that the characters portrayed were in fact profoundly affected by the human subjects captured though their lenses. However, these instances of insight were rare. The attempts made in the film to uncover the complicated emotion involved in conflict photojournalism. The ethical dilemmas faced daily by The Bang Bang Club, were overwhelmed by the masculine bravado and disturbing emotionally disengaged voyeurism prominent throughout the film.

Marinovich, arguably the heartthrob of the film becomes romantically involved with The Star’s photo editor, Robin Comley. Marinovich’s rise up the ranks as a freelancer occurs when his truly grotesque images captured of a burning corpse gets picked up by the Associated Press-eventually winning him a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. In support of Marinovich’s success members of The Bang Bang Club pat Marinovich on the back yelling, “It’s pay day!”

This display signified that the main goal of the conflict photojournalist is to indulge the personal ego, exploit victims of human rights abuse to make money. This display could be ethically problematic for viewers, as the instance is not balanced by passion for the role, or sympathy for the victims.

Albeit photojournalists need to be paid-full stop. However, it is the ethical dilemma of exploitation that surrounds conflict photography that makes this scene so problematic. The photojournalist’s role is important to holding human rights violators and governments to account-but the portrayal in this movie does not represent this with much context or accuracy. This devalues the work of Marinovich and Co.

Someone needed to have a really bad day for the members of The Bang Bang Club to have a good day. Marinovich’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph was highlighted leading to celebrity within the journalism community, higher respect, and the ultimate prize-continuing to have sex with Comley (apparently unachieved by others). Sweat, dirt, adrenaline and violence a great recipe to get the girl, and win a Pulitzer Prize.

Ethical quandaries about photojournalists exploiting victims of violence for profit and personal gratification is hotly debated among scholars-but it is a role in society that needs to be filled. This opinion piece does not take a stand on whether or not graphic and violent images are wrong, but does take the stand that photojournalists depicted in The Bang Bang Club are not represented in a fair and balanced way.

The film highlights Carter’s controversial 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the vulture staking the starving Sudanese child. The ethical implications of capturing such images are touched upon, but does not make for good subject matter in a Hollywood blockbuster so is quickly skimmed over when Carter is questioned in the interview by the South African radio jockey mentioned earlier. Instead the viewer is left to infer that there is precarious ethical terrain to cover as the closing scene plays out Carter’s highly publicized suicide.

The film does not elaborate or even being to delve into stories about the victims depicted in Carter’s, Marinovich’s, Oosterbroek, or Silva’s famous photographs, nor the context in which the violence was taking place. This is ironic because the goal of photojournalists is to expose and bring to public consciousness atrocities happening to people right in front of their eyes. The photojournalist is a vessel for which to bring to the world’s attending human rights abuses and the truths of conflict. The conflict photojournalist would have an empty film roll without subjects, for which there is no real reference to in The Bang Bang Club film. The photojournalists are trying to ignite a global response to the South African’s “Hidden War”.

As an award winning documentary filmmaker, I figured Silva would be accurate and perhaps avoid the common Hollywood tropes attractive to directors when depicting African conflicts for Western audiences. The lack of context in this film is troubling. “The Bang Bang Club”, a label was born out of media sensationalism and thus, downgraded the authenticity of the work the photojournalists were trying to accomplish as members of The Bang Bang Club.

The scene where Marinovich runs through an onslaught of gunfire unscathed to purchase two bottles of Coca-Cola, exemplifies the characterization of Marinovich as a nonchalant vigilantly. This event was a factually accurate and represented a very human, and humorous situation amid chaos-within the context of this film it made the white photographer seems to transcendent over black violence, again adding to the racialized portrayal of the photojournalists in The Bang Bang Club. This characterization, although human and humorous, detracts from the seriousness of conflict documentation, when juxtaposed to the previously discussed failings.

As the four, male members of The Bang Bang Club walk through the newsroom women look up from their desks, one even jumps up to steal an open-mouthed kiss from Oosterbroek. The cocky, arrogant and blatant sexual attention due to their dark, mysterious masculine escapades also detracts from the seriousness of their job in documenting the violence that occurred in apartheid South Africa.

The film is gritty and raw, yet contrived. Although based on truth this film is a work of fiction. The film glorifies the exploitation by photojournalists of black South Africans fighting for change against the racist, colonial segregation.

Photojournalists in post-Cold War conflicts are placed in situations with less clear cut lines between aggressors and victims, as well as unprecedentedly complex violence and chaos which must as a matter of human rights must be documented. Albeit, the film tries to ‘humanize’ the issue of conflict photography, but in doing so actually reduces the seriousness and sincerity many (not all) conflict photographers have.

This film does not contextualize the role of the government in their relationship with the Zulu’s. The Zulu’s were used as proxy fighters against Nelson Mandela’s ANC leading to misconceptions on the ethnic violence depicted in the film. The Coles Notes version of this relationship is flashed on screen for 15 seconds at the beginning of the film. The viewer is then left to interpret the nearly 400 years of racialized colonialism and segregation. This type of uncontextualized representation ascribes to common tropes used to represent not only South Africa, but also the African continent more generally. Images of tribalism, violence and chaos between black Africans reign as excitable images for onlookers.

The image of ‘the white photographer’ documenting the violence and suffering of black South Africans for sport and fame is after watching this film could be seen as exploitation guised as social justice.

“Get out of my fucking way,” says Ken Oosterbroek as he snaps a picture of a bloodied-corpse of a young black resident of Soweto Township. The film infers a racialized power dynamic between the white photojournalists with agency to bring change and passive victims of black on black violence.

Silver is an accomplished documentary filmmaker, and presumably gifted at representing fact. Where Silver failed is in the exaggeration and romanticization of conflict journalists’ lives. What film about Africa would be complete with out conflict, blood, young black rebels strapped with AK-47s, corruption, and of course a white saviour-in this case represented by white South African photojournalists.

My advice to any filmmaker, author, journalists, photographers, tourist, travel bloggers (basically anyone documenting human rights violations, human suffering on the African soil), read Binyavanga Wainaina’s book How to Write About Africa. Avoid common pitfalls and do justice to the characters on continent. This film joins the ranks of Blood Diamond, Black Hawk Down and Lord of War…believe me, this list could go on. The Bang Bang Club provides a lesson on, “How Not to Make a Film About Africa”.

This unconextualized stereotype-laden film, clouds the authenticity and perhaps inherent altruism that many human rights advocates and conflict documentarians have when covering active conflict. Carter faced criticism for his (in)famous 1994 Pulitzer Prize image. The image depicts an image of a miscellaneous starving Sudanese child in southern Sudan. The public criticized Carter for just snapping the photo and not helping the little girl-again the focus goes back to ethical dilemmas involving the subject of these horrific images.

Silver stereotypes conflict journalists and black South Africans to create drama and intrigue in his film The Bang Bang Club. As he stated in his interview with CNN in 2011, this film was not about the subjects captured through the lenses of The Bang Bang Club-the inherent problem in the creation of this film.

So, what makes a perfect film? According to Silver using degrading tropes and stereotypes of Africa to glamorize The Bang Bang Club as selfish, narcissistic wild-men. However effective these tactics are at bringing people to the box-office, it damages the integrity of talented conflict photojournalists putting their life on the line to bring the world images no one would otherwise see.

Final recommendation-skip the film, read the book.

Canadian Human Rights Museum fuels Indigenous Genocide Debate

By: Isaac Wurmann

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened its door to fanfare and controversy on September 20, 2014.

IMG_5949The project was first announced 11 years ago. $351 million later, the commanding glass and Tyndall stone building dominates the Winnipeg skyline.

Winnipeg has an impressive human rights history, making it an appropriate location for Canada’s first national museum outside the National Capital Region.

The museum was spearheaded by the late Israel Asper, who saw there was a need for human rights education in Canada, says Moses Levy, the executive director of The Asper Foundation.

Asper “felt that human rights [is] the most important element of a civil society,” according to Levy.

After a tumultuous first few years, the CMHR was granted status as a federal institution in 2008, according to Levy. This means the federal government covers the museum’s operating costs.

Receiving federal money has its benefits but it also comes with potential challenges.

“I think the big questions will be around, as a federal museum, as a crown corporation, to what extent will they address or challenge some of the issues that are maybe uncomfortable for the government of the day,” says Dean Peachey, the Acting Principle of Global College at the University of Winnipeg.

The human rights business is not a place to make friends, says Peachey.

“You offend lots of people and you make people uncomfortable, and that’s part of what, as a human rights museum, it will need to do.”

Since its conception, the CMHR has been criticized by groups who fear their stories will not be accurately told in the museum.

The opening weekend was tarnished by controversy after Ottawa-based electronic group A Tribe Called Red withdrew from their scheduled performance because the museum does not use the word “genocide” to describe human rights abuses suffered by Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Other scholars and members of Canada’s indigenous and non-indigenous communities have echoed their discontent.

Photo by Gerry Shingoose

A demonstration called The Sacred Fire took place during the museum’s opening weekend. The event was meant to provide a space to share and heal by offering tobacco and cedar medicine to the fire, and to “acknowledge the genocide that happened,” explained Gerry Shingoose, a Saulteaux woman from Tootinawaziibeeng First Nation. Shingoose organized the event with two others.

Shingoose is a survivor of the Muscowequan Indian Residential School. While at the school, she says she experienced emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse on a daily basis.

150, 000 Aboriginal children are estimated to have attended residential schools in Canada. Shingoose called her experience within the Indian Residential School system horrific, traumatizing, and inhumane.

“I can’t understand why they wouldn’t acknowledge it [as genocide],” says Shingoose.

The Indian Residential School system should be recognized as genocide, agrees David MacDonald, a genocide scholar at the University of Guelph.

“I’ve argued that it violates 2(e) of the genocide convention, which is forcibly transferring children from one group to another,” he said.

MacDonald is referring to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article 2 of the agreement outlines punishable act of genocide. One of the illegal acts is transporting children of one group to another with force.

The federal government currently recognizes five genocides: the Holocaust, the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the Srebrenic genocide in Bosnia. These crimes are the focus of the CMHR’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ gallery.

This is problematic, according to MacDonald.

“When the word ‘genocide’ is being used for five different big crimes in the museum, and its not being used for residential schools, you have a hierarchy which is naturally developed,” he explained.

As a museum, it is not the role of the CMHR to make declarations regarding terminology, says Angela Cassie, the museum’s director of communications and external relations. Instead, “we can facilitate a conversation … we can inform people so they can add their voices to the conversation.”

Although the word “genocide” is not used to describe aspects of the colonization of indigenous peoples in Canada, indigenous content exists in every gallery of the museum. This includes the “Breaking the Silence” gallery, which looks at residential schools as part of their mass atrocities exhibit.

The museum’s largest gallery, “Canadian Journeys,” has an exhibit about the REDress project, which focuses on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

IMG_1491The museum boasts 11 galleries on six levels, which are connected by a network of glowing alabaster ramps . Visitors begin in a dimly lit subterranean hall. Then, they make their way into galleries that feature floor-to-ceiling windows, before reaching the Tower of Hope, which rises a 100 meters above the city.

The goal of the museum is to provide an “inspiring experience”, says Cassie.

“We show a broad cross-section of human rights stories, we bring forward multiple perspectives, but what you’re actually invited to do as a visitor is to join the conversation.”

The first two galleries provide a variety of human rights definitions, including universal and indigenous perspectives. The following six IMG_5936galleries, which are not yet open to the public, address topics including Canadian human rights stories, the Holocaust, mass atrocities, and social movements.

The last three galleries are an examination of contemporary human rights struggles, a temporary exhibit space, and a gallery which curators hope will leave visitors feeling inspired to tackle human rights issues in their own communities. The public has been able to access these spaces on guided tours since Sept. 20, 2014.

Interactive touch screens and video theatres dominate most of the museum. This allows for depth and detail to be added to the stories over time, explained Cassie.

“It is a living, breathing organization and exhibition program,” she says. “People will be able to come back and discover new things.”

Even so, Shingoose says she is not ready to visit the museum. She indicated that another Sacred Fire event will be organized on the anniversary of the museum’s opening.

Only five of the museum’s galleries are currently open to the public. Visitors will be able to take part in the full museum experience, either on a guided tour or at their own pace, starting Nov. 11.

A Day in a Wheelchair

By: Patrick Butler

Walking in someone else’s shoes is sometimes easier said than done – especially when that person can’t use their legs. And as a person who has never broken a bone, walked on crutches or worn a brace – I am even cavity-free – it was hard to sympathize with how a disability or an injury could ever affect my mobility.

But on Thursday, after picking up a wheelchair from the Canadian Red Cross, I tried putting myself in the place of someone forced to wheel around in a city as weather-beaten and as flagrantly hilly as St. John’s. Such was my mission – not to point out shoddy infrastructure, but to try and understand, even for a few hours and in a few circumstances, some of the challenges of living with a disability in a place like this.

I would go about my day as normal, but other than driving, wherever I went and no matter what I did, I would have to be in my chair. Despite my new wheels, Thursday was a day like any other. Before lunch, I ran an errand at the Centre scolaire et communautaire des Grands-Vents on Ridge Road, where a combination of wind, rain-drizzle-fog and uphill pavement was my first test at wheelchair competency. An iffy automatic door opener took its time working, but I eventually got inside the building, where I accidentally set off an alarm in a tiny elevator for lack of signage.

Later, I drove to Memorial University and picked up a friend after her accounting class. We’d planned to try out the Rooms Café for lunch. Luckily, a suitable table opened up just before we arrived (about half the restaurant’s tables are high enough for bar stools).

I manoeuvred around other people’s seats and a waitress moved a chair so I could wheel myself in to our table. The tabletop connected with my armrests, which kept me from pulling in close enough, but we managed. After lunch, we went around downtown.

By this point sidewalks were steadily proving themselves some of the trickiest areas for me to wheel my chair, mostly because they were usually graded toward the road. That meant more effort to keep my chair straight, a slower pace and even more reduced mobility. We parked on Harbour Drive just across the road from Eastern Edge Gallery.

When I crossed the street at Clift’s-Baird’s Cove, the sidewalk lip intended for wheelchairs, which doesn’t actually connect with the crosswalk, put me out in traffic. A few hundred feet later, my chair’s footplates crashed into the pavement when I tried wheeling myself over a sidewalk curb without a lip. Lucky for me, I had a friend to help. But had I been alone, or had I truly lacked the ability to use my legs, I would have been stuck.

At Atlantic Place (our point of access to the shops on Water Street because its elevators helped me avoid a steep uphill roll from the harbour front), we headed to the office building’s main exit. When we got to the front doors, there were stairs, but no ramp.

Again, I was stuck. I asked a cashier where the wheelchair exit was located. He didn’t know.

We found it eventually – a side-alley off the food court. The rest of the day continued in much the same way. On Water Street, many of the stores had doorsteps and narrow entranceways – probably as much as the result of space as of accessibility concerns.

Crossing at crosswalks – especially those that run parallel to the harbour front and perpendicular to some pretty steep downhill slopes – was especially treacherous. Arms tired and fed up with the weather, we called it a day. I put the wheelchair in the trunk, stepped into the driver’s seat and left the woes of wheelchair accessibility behind.

I’m lucky. Not everyone can.

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.


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