Dr. Kent Middleton and Belarusian journalists.

Media Experts Discuss Internet Application and Legal Issues with Belarusian Journalists

Five journalists from Belarus got a glimpse of online journalism practices in the United States during a visit to the Cox Center and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia in April.

The Cox Center organized a special program for the journalists, which included meetings with Dr. Kent Middleton, head of the journalism department at Grady College, and Dr. Barry Hollander, associate professor in the Grady College and a specialist in online journalism.

Dr. Hollander discussed the benefits and practical uses of Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR), from basic uses of the Google search engine to more sophisticated practices, such as the tracing of organization web site links to investigate crime.

"The Internet is a powerful tool for a journalists," he said, "but we have to be very cautious using it as a source because you never know who's on the other side originating the material." Often, online information can be false, Dr. Hollander said.

Natallia Krasheuskaya, one of the Belarusian journalists, inquired as to the effectiveness of e-mail interviews. Often, she said, foreign diplomats and governmental officials in Belarus are resistant to the traditional face-to-face interview and will only consent via e-mail.

"Interviews through e-mail are not ideal," Dr. Hollander replied, agreeing that the in-person interview is best. "But having this type of interview is better than having no interview at all."

In addition, Krasheuskaya stated that officials sometimes ask to read the interview or article before it's published. Dr. Hollander explained that there is a general professional rule in the United States that "journalists do not show the article to the interviewee before publishing it."

Dr. Middleton discussed U.S. media law, with a focus on internet and copyright issues. Because Belarus press development and freedom differ significantly from the system of the United States, the journalists had many questions. Andrey Ivanov of Otkryty Contact wanted to know how often U.S. politicians sued newspapers for libel. Dr. Middleton explained that there are few such successful libel cases because, "there's a general assumption in the United States that once you become a public figure in a governmental office or political position, you automatically give up a certain amount of privacy."

The journalists concluded their stop in Athens with a visit to the Red and Black, the University of Georgia's student-run newspaper, where they met with publisher Harry Montevideo. The journalists said they were impressed by the facilities and amazed that all editorial decisions were made solely by students. Montevideo sees the final product only after it is published.

The visit by the journalists, which also included stops in Washington, D.C., and Seattle, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The Georgia portion of their visit was organized by the Georgia Council for International Visitors.

Participants were Andrey Ivanov, director of Otkryty Contact, LTD; Henadz Kesner, editor for Radio Racyja; Natallia Krasheuskaya, deputy director general for Interfax-West New Agency; Yury Shiroky, executive director of BelaPAN News Agency, and Kiryl Valoshyn, editor-in-chief for TUT.by, one of Belarus' leading information portals.

Once on the University of Georgia campus, the journalists met with Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Cox Center. He gave a presentation on journalism education in the United States as well as on the Cox Center's work. Dr. Vlad also presented the journalists with a copy of the book he co-edited with Dr. Lee Becker, Cox Center director, titled Copyright and Consequences: Central European and U.S. Perspectives, which contains a chapter on copyright development in Belarus.

The journalists returned to Belarus on April 3, after a two week exploration of online journalism in the United States. The Department of State's "Online Journalism" program was administered by the Delphi International Program of World Learning. At the time of the Belarusians' visit, Cox Center director Dr. Lee Becker was in the Ukraine conducting journalism workshops on election coverage.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.