Robert Hooper: Fulbright Specialist to Train
Robert Hooper, professor of negotiation, conflict resolution and peace building, will participate in the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program at the National University of Laos, in Vientiane, Laos, from June 1 to July 15. He will be working with the university’s administration to finalize curriculum and course content for a new program in mass communications to be launched this fall.
An award-winning documentary maker and producer, Hooper has trained media students in developing nations since his first Fulbright grant in 1989, when he helped develop the first film and television school in Malaysia. He will be returning to Laos for the fourth year in a row, to work with the national network, Lao National Television. He expresses the country’s desire to develop their own brand of mass communications, despite infiltration by foreign media from Thailand, Vietnam, Europe, and the United States.
“Their airwaves have been dominated by outside forces, from both Thailand and other countries through satellite television," he says. "Thailand has set up transmitters for all their networks on the Mekong River, which borders Laos. The Lao people are becoming very concerned and are complaining to the government because for many of their children, their first words and language are Thai, not Lao. The other factor is Vietnam, transmitting Vietnamese programming. Then satellite services are beaming in television from America and Europe. Laos feels like it’s being dominated culturally in terms of its entertainment and news from the outside.”
Hooper will conduct workshops to train faculty members to create broadcast news programs, focusing on all aspects of production of news programs, including story selection, writing of scripts, filming techniques, lighting, on-camera presentation, and editing. He describes how Laos has a long way to go in terms of matching other post-colonial nations in their media skills.
“When the Communists took over Vientiane in 1975, first Lao radio and then television modeled its programming from Soviet programming," he recalls. "The Soviet Union is history now, and countries like Laos are caught in a real transition, because nobody wants to watch that programming anymore, and they see neighboring countries with much more modern programming. So we’re dealing with the real problems of the Lao people instead of the previous paradigm, which was essentially sanctioned by the government.”
In training the staff of Lao networks, Hooper uses a student-centered pedagogy, ascertaining from producers and writers “what stories are important to them, not what stories are important to me. I’m bringing the people where they want to go.”
Having made and produced documentaries on topics ranging from killer whales in Alaska to the contamination of Love Canal, Hooper has found many similarities between the stories that Lao audiences and Western audiences look for.
“I found out that there is an endangered species of river dolphins that are sacred to a number of villages on the Mekong,” he says. “There are only 42 of these freshwater dolphins left, so this is a very important story to them. It’s also a very important story to me, because it’s about an endangered species. But if it weren’t important to them, teaching them how to cover it wouldn’t be effective. Because they embrace the story, and it’s important to them, it’s a motivating factor in doing a good piece of work.”
Hooper underscores the importance of teaching the skills of investigative journalism, in anticipation of Lao’s development.
“In a globalized world, no country can resist a pervasive and changing media,” he says. “Any country that loses control of its media, loses control of its culture and its future. My goal is to give the producers and writers of Lao TV the skills to address stories that will help them develop their country, and to really serve the people in terms of a democratic voice in the media.”
Since his first Fulbright experience in Malaysia, Hooper has been awarded Fulbright Senior Scholarships to teach and conduct research in Indonesia and Fiji. He served as a Fulbright Senior Specialist to the Science University of Malaysia in 2003 and 2004, and conducted courses for Bernama National Television, Radio-Television Malaysia, at the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development. As a U.S. State Department speaker in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2003, Hooper taught television production and journalism to reporters, producers, news directors and editors from Bangladesh Television, and lectured at Chittagong University on television news coverage of environmental issues. He returned in 2006 to conduct workshops for the Press Institute of Bangladesh on the coverage of conflict and terrorism.
In his third year of teaching the media’s importance in conflict resolution at CSU Dominguez Hills, Hooper underscores the importance of bearing in mind cultural differences and needs when assisting developing nations.
“In order to be successful at nation building, we need to remember that when we try to impose what we think the people want, we will fail,” he says. “But if we take the time to ask and study what they want, and how they see their future, we will see how we can be instrumental in assisting them in those goals, and will succeed for our mutual benefit and the future of a challenging world.”
- Joanie Harmon