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Sombath Somphone now
missing for two years

Sombath Somphone, a Lao development visionary, in a screenshot from a TVE Asia Pacific production; click here

Sombath Somphone had worked for more than 30 years promoting sustainable development in Lao PDR through training and educating young people in his country. He established the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) in 1996, which he headed until mid 2012.

He was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2005 for his lifetime work in promoting sustainable development in Laos.

On 15 December 2012 Sombath went missing in Vientiane after stopping at a checkpoint on the road leading to his home. His family and friends have appealed for his safe return. Shui Meng, Sombath's wife, talks about her husband, his life and his work in this video produced by Amnesty International Australia. Shui Meng has not seen her husband since December 2012.

Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler filed this report "Mystery shrouds Laos activist's fate" from Bangkok in January 2013 about a month after the news of Sombath's disappearance was carried by the international media.

To see what you can do to help visit the website
Malaysia's fifth decade
of studies in communication

Malaysia’s first communication programme was launched by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) nearly 44 years ago. "Communication studies in Malaysia have come a long way since the first course was offered..." remarked Prof. Dato' Dr. Syed Arabi Syed Abdullah Idid in his paper "The Past and Coming Communication Journey in Malaysia" which presents a comprehensive chronology of the growth of the field in the country. His paper will be published in the Jurnal Komunikasi, Malaysian Journal of Communication, which will be available for open-access download here.

USM was the second university to be established in Malaysia in 1969 and was founded in Penang, where Southbound is also based.

The first communication programme in the country began as a literal work-in-progress with part-time lecturers flying in from Kuala Lumpur and beyond to teach their courses. Its curriculum evolved as the pioneering batch of students worked their way through their programme.

Professor John Lent was appointed as the Coordinator of USM's fledgling programme in 1972 and dived into frantic months of developing and teaching the courses as student numbers increased, making communication one of the most popular courses in the School of Humanities.

He recalled those busy and exciting early days of the programme: "It was not unusual to spend 16 hours in the classroom weekly .... Every day’s work began early and ended late and we were on campus at least half day on Saturdays. But, despite this workload, the whole experience was exciting and productive, and without a doubt, those 19 or 20 months were among the most pleasurable of my 51-year teaching career."

John Lent's efforts, combined with the hard work of a handful of his colleagues from those early days, quickly built an impressive programme and developed an illustrious class of pioneering Malaysian communicators. He recalled:

"The new curriculum was one to be proud of, even surpassing many longer-established undergraduate programs in the United States in its scope, rigor, and depth. The courses were oriented toward both research/theory and practice and were interdisciplinary in nature. They revolved around communication skills, humanistic approaches to communication, and development and international communication. The latter were especially appropriate at the time with Asian governments’ and NGOs’ emphasis on using communication for national development purposes. Development communication was the buzzword of the day."

"Students were expected to do actual reporting and writing in simulated assignments on campus and real-world situations during their internships. We even had press cards printed for them. Third-year students were required to carry out original research, using primary resources and techniques such as historical method, content analysis, interviews, or audience and other surveys. The papers they wrote for my courses dealt with a variety of topics, and I think it necessary to mention representative ones here for there is no doubt, these were the pioneering studies of Malaysia’s mass communication. Examples were: Shirley Tan Lee Nah’s history of Penang journalism, 1911—1945; Primalani Muthucumaru’s Straits Echo history; Cheah Kim Lean and Rodziah Ahmad Tajuddin’s treatment of Malaya’s underground press, 1942—1960; Molly Mathews’ history of Malaysian broadcasting; Mohd. Naim Ismail’s work on Suara Malaysia; Parameswari’s analysis of government press releases used by five Malaysian dailies; Ismail bin Mamat’s content analysis of Straits Times and Utusan Melayu and Tuan Kamaruzaman’s similar study of Utusan Malaysia and Straits Echo; Lee Wai Keong and Venugopal’s “Research Projects on Women’s Magazines”; Lee Kim Har’s history of Kwong Wah Yit Poh, 1910—1945; Ng Seng Kang’s work on Chinese culture, language, and press; Cheok Chye Sin’s content analysis of two Chinese newspapers; Rajan Moses and C. Mathew George’s comparison of The Star and Sing Pin Jit Poh; Othman bin Haji A. Rashid’s study of Malaysian mass media during the Japanese occupation; Ainon Haji Kuntom’s history of Malay newspapers; Abdullah bin Mahmood’s content analysis of Utusan Malaysia and Utusan Melayu; Aziz Muhammed and Zainie Rahmat’s study of the Ministry of Information’s use of folk media to disseminate government policies; Bachan Kuar Gill’s survey of the Punjabi press in Malaysia; G. Parimala Devi and N. Nirmala Devi’s project on the availability, penetration, and utilization of media in a Tamil community, and Penelope Tan’s work on Malaysian films and the censor. I think a few were published and I used, with proper acknowledgement, some of the students’ findings in a series of articles and a monograph I wrote on Malaysian mass communication. I had that much confidence in the way the research was conducted."

To read John Lent's recollection of his two years in Penang devoted to developing Malaysia's first communication programme, click here.
VIPP advanced training

The next advanced training course on VIPP facilitation will be held in the Black Forest, Germany from 28 September to 2 October 2015. The course is organized for facilitators and trainers, who are seeking to improve their skills. It also aims at providing participants with opportunities to share new methods and tools for democratic facilitation and learning. Email if you are interested in finding out more about the course. To find out more about VIPP click here.


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