Recollections of a Communicator - Admirable strength of Vietnam
The recent visit to Vietnam by Vice President Hamid Ansari and the signing of various agreements with that country brought to my mind my brief stay in that country almost three decades ago.
As head of the News Services Division of All India Radio, I was sent to that country on the request of the Asian Institute of Broadcast Development (AIBD) to conduct a course to train the personnel of the Radio Voice of Vietnam in the preparation of radio news bulletins.
The request was an offshoot of my visit to Philippines where I had participated in a conference on broadcasting. The head of the AIBD, Mr. Balakrishnan, who was engaged in the task of training journalists of newly independent countries of Asia, asked me that he would be sending a request to the Government of India to depute me to conduct a course in Vietnam.
I told Mr. Balakrishnan that an easier way for him was to request organizations like the BBC or CNN to conduct such a course. He said that Vietnam was unlikely to welcome western media organizations into their country to run such a course, and India would be a welcome option.
Soon after my return to India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting received a request from the AIBD to send me to Vietnam to organize the course. My three-week visit to that country was very educative for me too.
The route to Hanoi was through Bangkok. I recall having landed in Bangkok and waiting for a Vietnamese aircraft to take me to Hanoi. I got into the plane and asked for my seat. I was told that the seats were not marked, and I could take any seat. The plane was soon full and there were many standing passengers too. The passengers were mostly Vietnamese migrant workers from East European countries and were visiting their homes for a short holiday.
The airport in Hanoi was similar to a suburban Indian airport in the early fifties. The drive to the city was through farmlands. Ho Chi Minh City had buildings, which recalled the French colonial period. The crowded streets were packed with people cycling to their offices.
The course was attended by sixteen participants, seven of them from the Radio Voice of Vietnam and the rest from the provincial stations. I was told that they had experience of ten to twenty years in journalism. The opening session was attended by Le Quy, Vice President of the State Committee for Vietnam Radio and Television.
I requested the participants to tell me about themselves, and how they conducted their programmes. Soon, I realized that their exposure to the techniques of radio journalism was minimal. They could not distinguish the difference between printed news and the spoken word, and that each news item had an introduction giving details of the position occupied by newsmakers and that the news itself appeared at the end.
In consultation with Le Quy, I decided to limit my task to training them in preparing a news bulletin and also compile and edit current affairs programmes. It took a couple of days for me to make them understand the concept of the lead sentence and the 'inverted pyramid' style in drafting items.
Their bulletins had no fixed time and varied from ten to twenty minutes in duration. They were a mix of items, covering international developments, domestic achievements in agriculture and industry and party matters. I had to drill into them the need to keep in mind the interest of 'listeners' and impress of them of the need to utilize the medium of radio effectively as a catalyst for social change.
I also spent considerable time with the participants to train them in the preparation of current affairs programmes. I myself was an admirer of Mr. Melville D'Mellow of the All India Radio and had learnt the techniques from him.
On the final day, the bulletin drafted by the participants was played, and Le Quay who presided, pointed out that it carried fourteen items, while the normal bulletins contained only four. Many of the participants said that the course had 'opened their eyes' to the need for writing in talking style, while writing for the radio.
I made many friends, including with the interpreters who made it easy for me to communicate with the participants. At the end of the course, I invited a team from Radio Voice of Vietnam to visit the newsroom of the All India Radio in India.
An eye opener for me was a visit to the areas which were occupied by its adversaries during the war, the cruelties suffered by the people during the war with the United States. The visit to the museum by Vice President Hamid Ansari was perhaps an eye-opener for him. It was a touching experience for me to visit the remains of President Ho Chi Minh, who led the country during the wars.
Incidentally, I also learnt to appreciate the taste of green tea, which was consumed by us in glass after glass during the classes.
( Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer (PIO), Government of India. The e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)