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African journalists visit PLNU, only school stop in the nation

Journalists from 12 African countries visited PLNU Friday after being denied at University of South Florida (USF), St. Petersburg, making PLNU their only university stop.

“This is the only university they’re visiting in the entire nation,” said Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at PLNU.

South Florida refused the group’s visit after Han Reichgelt, regional vice president of academic affairs, said faculty, staff and students were concerned about Ebola.

“We canceled out of upmost caution due to fears of transmission of Ebola virus, which has proved fatal for more than 50 percent of the people who have been infected,” said the letter Reichgelt sent to the USF St. Petersburg Journalism and Media Studies Department, which was printed in the student newspaper, The Crow’s Nest.

Originally, 14 journalists were making the trip, but because of the fear surrounding Ebola in the U.S., two journalists – from Sierra Leone and Liberia – decided to defer their visit. Even after the group told the university this, they were still denied.

While the group visited The Poynter Institute instead of USF, Olive Burrows, a reporter from Capital FM in Kenya, said it was “regrettable” they were left out of the program because Sierra Leone and Liberia have such rich histories and the journalists could provide an update on Ebola in their countries.

“They would have given us a wealth of information about how the whole thing was handled and what their thoughts are and what lessons they’ve learned and all that. It would have been amazing to have them on the trip,” Burrows said.

The representatives from the state department would not be quoted.

The Edward Murrow program has sent journalists to the U.S. since 2006 in collaboration with the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Nelson, journalism professors Stephen Goforth and Danielle Cervantes spoke on everything from healthy skepticism, to topic specialization and transparency. Students attended the event.

The journalists came from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Republic of South Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

They also expressed their greatest challenges, some of the most severe being corruption in the government and among journalists, uninformed population and the possibility of imprisonment due to mistakes or writing certain stories.

“Like for a lot of Africans, we imagine America to be this land of milk and honey and this perfect country, so it’s been good to see some of the imperfections of your system, and that it’s just like any other country in the world,” said Burrows. “If we work at it, we can get up to the same pace. So it’s been a good experience.”