Ex-BBC reporter teaches war crimes coverage

A former BBC reporter has returned to the UK after teaching African journalists how to sensitively cover the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president.

Jon Silverman mentored journalists from Sierra Leon and Liberia who are now sending reports on the dictator’s trial at the Hague to radio stations in West Africa.

The former BBC Home and Legal Affairs correspondent said he focussed on how to feed reports over the internet, as part of the training project for the BBC World Service Trust.

He said: “The Trust wants to ensure that journalists based in the countries where war crimes have been committed are able to report on trials, so justice is seen to be done.”

His tutoring also stressed the importance of court reporters having a good note of the proceedings and developing contacts with both the prosecution and defence teams.

The trial of Mr Taylor, who ruled Liberia from 1997 to 2003, has brought to light the mutilation and abduction of women and girls. Unknown numbers were also forced to become sex slaves.

In the trial, Mr Taylor is accused of forming a "joint criminal enterprise" by giving Sierra Leonean rebel groups weapons and training in return for access to the country's diamond fields.

The controversial trial coincides with the International Criminal Court investigation into atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR), which occurred in 2002 and 2003.

As a result, Mr Silverman also spent a week preparing journalists for what they would need to cover, including reports of civilians being killed and raped amid armed conflict.

“It was a very interesting experience,” he said. “CAR is one of the least-developed countries and rarely visited, even by reporters. It has endured sporadic instability for decades and people here are among the poorest in the world.

“The concept of press freedom is very different in CAR, which makes you more aware of the freedoms we tend to take for granted in the western media.”

In 1996, Mr Silverman won a Gold Sony Broadcasting Award for research that led to the arrest of the first person in the UK for Nazi war crimes.


5th February 2008

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