Dec 11 2007
EP5: Emerging People Session
Pushing the Envelope: New Media, Citizens Journalism, Human Rights and Development
Dan Gillmor, Author “We the Media. Grassroots journalism for the People By the People”
Ory Okolloh, Blogger at Kenya Pundit, Global Voices
Steven Gan, Editor-in-chief of Malaysia Kini
Sharmini Boyle, Chief Editor, Young Asia Television
Sanjana Hattotuwa, Head, ICT for Peacebuilding InfoShare, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Regular liveblogging caveats apply – can’t catch it all – spelling errors and momentary lapses in attention!
Sanjana: So far drowning in acronyms and . What does it mean to be a blogger? Are we making a difference? Andrew Keen put out a book that challenged what new media and blogs do, that it erodes culture, skeptical of its value. We have the example of Myanmar this year where most of the stories from the ground came from mobile phones as the government shut down the internet.
I want to set the tenor by quoting David Polk from NYTimes. He wrote in response to comments on his blog, and said, “the real shame is that the knee jerk, everyone else is an idiot tenor poisons the internet…. People used to dream of a global village…where we can realize we have a lot in common. Instead of finding common ground we are finding new ways to spit on the other guy and push away. Making it easier to attack than to embrace.” (Didn’t’ fully get quote.)
Not going to go into long introductions – they are in the brochure.
Dan Gilmore, associated with Center for Citizen Media, author of “We the Media.” Dan tries to bring in diligence, accuracy and fairness. He is going to speak about advocacy journalism.
Honored to share the panel with these people whose work I am personally in awe of, doing the real work. I just talk about it. To give an overview of this world we are going in to, a democratized media. Not about voting, but about participation. Production is easy, cheap and widespread. It is also about access. It is about creating media and making it available to other people. A read and write web, write in the largest sense. It turns the consumer of media into a creator.
Some data…. Photos… video of the Tsunami, the Virginia Tech shootings in US last year. This is not new. People have been on the scene to capture important events in the past. The assassination of president Kennedy. The crucial difference is that in a few years if something like that happens it won’t be one person with a; movie camera but thousands with high def cameras in their phones, connected in ubiquitous ways to high speed networks. Very different than 1963.
Creators become collaborators, a change that affects all of use. Together we blog and podcast, youTube has changed things. Through things like Wikipedia – something close to journalism, but a different kind. The mashup combining data from different parts of the web (Tunisian prison map). Secret prisons are no longer a secret for human rights. Imagination through virtual worlds like second life. Websites that replace or complete with local papers, community blogs.
Who is a journalist? What is journalism?
The NYTimes is journalism. But what about the man in London underground who captured the most well known photo of the bombings. He wasn’t a journalist before or after but he did an act of journalism.
A colleague professor at Berkely writes a blog that is now required reading for people who care about economic policy. Is he a journalist?
Can the NGO do journalism? They are creating media on their websites. They are getting closing than they every were. They are doing advocacy. Advocacy journalism has a long and admirable history. They can apply the principles of journalism to the work they are doing in persuading the public. They will be more effective. Something I’d like to work on with NGOs. Witness. Something closer to journalism.
The tools are becoming easier and more available. Change.org.
The newsmakers, the institutions journalists write about, have many new rules to think about. One of the key ones is that it is more difficult to keep secrets. Transparency on balance is better than none.
Citizmen media is becoming part of traditional media in some ways. It is not about one or the other, but one AND the other. I hope citizen journalists don’t replace traditional journalists, but add to the work. Symbiotic and use to our benefit.
Blogs in Sweden are pointed to by media. In Florida a local government issue came up and they asked the citizens to investigate. They came up to so much good information it changed government policy. When traditional media says” Please help us.” It is common to send in photos.
There are experiments in social media. It is now easy to develop your own site without any particular expertise. There is a less in this inexpensive technology. It doesn’t cost much to try things. Anyone can try for almost no money, just some time. Never been a time as good as this one to be an entrepreneur in the media. Can’t wait to see people try experiments around the world. Going to be working with students on entrepreneurial media projects. Seeing it all over the world. IN Korea, Ohmynews – one of the most important hybrid experiments. IN San Francisco, Om Malik has done GigaOm. Local blogging popular in the US, becoming more in the world. Global Voices Online created by people putting in more time than money and we are learing about people all over the globe.
Plead with you to help that we have to understand to teach a new kind of media literacy. We have a lot to learn. For the audience (and we are all more audience than producers) we have to help people understand it is important o be skeptical. But not equally skeptical of everything. To learn what and who to trust. To keep reporting and doing research, even as an audience. Look further for our big decisions. We have to take responsibility. Finally learning media techniques. To remember that media are used to persuade and manipulate – to understand how they do that.
For the journalist – professional and citizen – there are traditional values. Thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and independence. Time honored and work. We need them in citizen journalism. We need to add one more for this century – transparency. Applies to traditional journalists, big media and citizen journalist. Tell people if we have bias or a stake in the outcome. If traditional media telling us how and why they are doing what they do. Dan@gillmore.com
Sanjana: Does having more coverage help you understand what happened any more, any better, than why an event took place. In NGOs, in transparency and advocacy journalism, it might be the case that if they adopt these strategies, would they become more at risk in countries with oppressive governments. Transparency fits to our next speaker.
www.mzalendo.com is a blog she started to bring transparency to the Kenyan parliament. The name also means patriot.
Ory: I will speak on a couple points that Dan has touched on. I really doing something that is like journalism. My focus is just on how it is low cost. My project costs me $20/month to host the website. I am not a journalist, I’m a lawyer, mother, consultant. This is a labor of love so will talk from a personal perspective about what we can do as individuals. Often activism is talked about in terms of large things. What gets lost is what we can do as individuals, as citizens. To record information. To urge those in NGO, we push our governments about sharing information, but NGOs can be just as closed as governments. There may be a workshop about a bill, but there is no information about that workshop. Where is that information discussed in conferences like us? IS it reaching the people who should access it? Bills have been workshopped and conferenced, but not on the web. NGOs can be just as bad as governments and that needs to change.
Activism: What’s blogging got to do with it? I get asked if blogs will change politics. No, not alone. That doesn’t mean they should not be taken seriously. I redefine activism as micro activism. What individuals can do. http://cheranganyvotesin200.blogspot.com/m Young man got involved in politics, then in blogging and now is running for office against a tough incumbent. Blogging inspired him to get involved in politics. That is activism. It doesn’t have to overturn a government. But just as powerful in small stories of individuals who have been changed, a mom doing a mommy blog, or a woman blogging about sexual experiences , all important. (List of diverse Kenyan blogs) We focus on the noble intentions, but should not only focus on that. The fact of seeing the diversity of voices, especially in Africa which has a monolithic stereotypical view. Important to dispel the myths by seeing the diversity.
I have a personal blog called Kenyan Pundit. Then set up www.mzalendo.com with an anonymous partner who does the technical stuff. He hacked WordPress into a database to share information about parliament. The official parliament website had been shut down because their CVs had been made public and some did not like that. Kiswahili word for Patriot. This information belongs to us. These people have been elected to represent us, their background, how they are voting. inspired by theyworkforyou.com out of UK. That time I was based in the States at the Berkman center. I’m not a journalist, politician nor do I run an NGO. I am a Kenyan citizen. Instead of complaining about not accessing the information, what can I do about it? We got tired of complaining as Kenyan citizens. We’re very good about complaining about politicians. They are a reflection of our society. If we don’t hold them accountable, who else is going to change it? Demonstrate we have a responsibility, especially as young Africans and see what we can do.
When I started researching this, the mainstream media was doing fluffy stories. Who wore what, what the argument is about. Part is corruption. They get paid to write certain stories. They have the best access to Parliament. Unless you are a journalist you cannot take paper and pen into parliament. They search you. It is difficult to get in and this is supposed to be a public institution. To get a press pass is political. We could not get one.
The official parliament website was down, then back up but dated. But the mirror site was still up and we found it. We lifted all that information and put it up on our site so people could access it. We have politician profiles, bills and their stages, debate on bills, profiles of MPs and built up queries – how many female politicians, etc. Database on who is running and campaigns. Profiles have pictures, contact info, bios. And copies of their ___. We can’t get soft copies. We got hooked up and put them online. We also disaggregate information to see which each MP asked in parliament to see how active they are. There is a comment function where people can add information, what they want/like. Lots of debate coming up. Users are now focusing on performance.
We also try and get other bloggers to report for us, to attend sessions on bills and try and give us some background on what was going on. Convincing individuals to give a sense of coverage from an average person’s view. During elections we’ve been doing profiles on young candidates, especially those using tech for their campaign.
How we work? Only one in person meeting. Hatched over breakfast. We work via SMS. I’m in Johannesburg and partner in Nairobi. Database runs on MSQL, run on WordPress, open source. Encourage other users to collaborate with us. Graphic artists designed badges. Time is the biggest constraint =- something I do on the side as a volunteer, labor of love. Other challenges – not the technology but getting the hard data. Hard to get information from people who have it. Find a culture of secrecy in many African governments with the default that government information should not be shared. IN Kenya you have to demonstrate why you want information. Teach people to question why we should not be getting access. Other challenge is lack of internet Access in Kenya – limited readership ,mostly in urban areas. Finally, does it matter? Will it change politics? Will it determine who will be the next president? Is it useful? We believe if we build it they will come. Maybe not now, but really building for the next generation. 70% of population is 30 and under, growing up with mobile phones, internet, Facebook. This is their tool. They are more likely to go to google than newspaper for election information. Build that culture of questioning what your politician is doing for you.
Sanjana: Would like to pick up on the generational issue. As a father I share that time challenge. Issue of sustainability. Serious challenge. What happens should you not have the time to continue? Are there other community members who will take your work forward? Is the new generation taking that responsibility forward what you have begun.
Next speaker, Steven Gan, an echo when I hear Steven speak on what he has had to go through in Malaysia in setting up Malaysia _Kini. Interesting parallels with my experience in Sri Lanka. Steven is not afraid to speak his mind to help us understand, question and challenge how really difficult it is to do it when dealing with oppressive governments, worried about exposure of corruption. How difficult is it? What are the challenges? How is tech, new media helping or impeding you?
Steven Gan: Going to start by showing a short video. We’ve been around for 8 years. Only recently launched our video section. I asked our video team to put together a 2 minute clip on some of the videos they have made in recent months on MalaysianKini.
Malaysiakini.com – politicians asking them to leave the room. That they get leaders in troubles. Politicians expressing that they can’t accept what kini is doing. Then the people saying they would not vote for their officials. People saying no to corruption. Covering people voicing their protests against the government.
It is going to be difficult to tell the Malaysiakini story in 8 minutes. Difficult to really explain – so many questions people ask. How could Malaysiakini be one of the few media organizations that have survived over the last 8 years. Why would anyone want to fork out money to get access to us? You need to put everyone in context, background to the whole thing. Malaysia’s illiberal democracy. We have freedom of speech, no freedom after speech. We are a complex country. We have democratic elections but not free and fair elections. We have freedom of movement, but no freedom of assembly. No public gatherings – banned in Malaysia. Dozens of newspapers in many languages but no free press.
Reason why this is the case – repressive laws and media ownership. Printing law – mandatory licensing to run any media outlet and must annually renew. Short leash. Have official secrets act, sedition act – all laws that came from our former colony masters the British and internal security act which allows detention without trial. 35 laws that repress the media.
Mainstream media – all political parties own the media. Directly and indirectly. New Straits Times Malay Mail liked to Umno through Media Prima. A conglomerate that is owned by the major party. Key Malay daily owned by part of the ruling coalition – the Star, Chinese dailies and radio stations. MIC is the Indian party part of the ruling coalition owns Tamil and Malaysian media.
The internet is the only democratic space left to have a situation. Otherwise government has monopoly on truth. Former PM refused to give interviews while in office. He started Multimedia Super Corridor – a Silicon valley type project in Malaysia. To get that investment he promised not to censor the Internet. He said he was obliged, even if he would like to censor. The good thing with market was he listed to good advice.
Malaysiakini does not need to apply for publication license, but have to abide by many of the restrictive laws.
To finish off, some of my own ideas about challenges to new media from our experience over the past 8 years. There are two major challenges. Credibility and financial viability. Getting the facts right, exercising discipline in verification process, not peddling hearsay as news. The same journalistic principles from old media. Like to see MK as a new media that applies values from the old media.
There is a lot of talk about bloggers. Dan and I were on a panel and debated that issue. Agree that one cannot replace old journalists. We work hand in hand. Bloggers are good in expressing opinions, getting at commenting on news stories in media. But when it comes to independent accounts of global events still come from professional journalists and should continue. Bloggers can help supplement that, especially in emergencies, disasters, attacks. Journalists can’t be everywhere. Bloggers are already there.
Financial viability is the major problem. Credibility is easy. Apply the principles and you are there. 50 companies control 95 percent of the online advertising market. That model doesn’t work. None of the top four are news media: Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. The rest of us fight for the remaining 5%. A very long tail. Intense competition. The digital media economies might not support professionally produced journalism. There is a need to migrate from mainstream to the online media, but can they survive? Not going to learn much from advertising. Don’t know if subscription model can work everywhere. Malaysiankini is very lucky – making profit the last two years on subscription based model but don’t think it can be replicated elsewhere. Don’t have the answers to these big questions. Still looking for that killer application that even old media are searching for. They are suffering the migration of advertising to internet and losing income.
fundamentally financial viability might work in Malaysia with subscriptions. Not sure who has financial viability answers for countries like Kenya or Sri Lanka where internet penetration is not that high.
Sanjana: Sharmini Boyle is with the Young Asia Media Initiative, documenting Sri Lanka’s history. A public broadcasting service set up and operated in conflict. Responding to the challenges of doing what they are doing. Not been an easy journey.
Sharmini : Working in Conflict
I come from a background of Young Asia TV, from traditional media and novice to new media but know we need to move on and how. Against the background of protracted conflict. YATV established 12 years ago with satellite tv, and new market opportunities and large numbers. Coincided with liberalization of TV industry. Needed to open up to compete with cable. Initially introduced as a regional initiative, then focused on Sri Lanka with violent conflict between government and minority. Wanted to make a media intervention that addressed community needs, in their language, to improve understanding between them. Different from commercial ventures serving English and Tamil but to build bridges. Catalyst for change. Explore reality of living in Sri Lanka, diversity, highlighting need and initiatives for peace. Meaningful dialog between all essential for peace building. Civil society is fractured. Media has role in peace building. MSM has come under fire for doing opposite – reflecting bias, prejudice of the two main parties. Playing a destructive role, playing on nationalistic sentiments, taking advantage of a lack of consensus on peach process.
Today 2002 peace process has given way to full blow war and increase in oppression. Censorship. Hard to reflect diverse perspectives. People not comfortable to express in intolerant environment, especially things not in keeping with current regime. Cut out of MSM, turning to alternatives. YATV faces same challenges. Trying to live values on the web. Must make the shift to engage a younger constituency who use mobile phones and PC rather than TV and radio. Confident benefit of online content will trickle down even to those without access. WIMAX from state, and private mobile , well placed to take up broadband access. Hope to take advantage of the infrastructure by producing and distributing content which is lacking to make use of broadband for transformation, peace building and democracy . Also help connect with Diaspora community using internet as a transnational public sphere for culture, democracy and identity. Mobilized resources, advocacy and peacemaking. Information and emotional space.
Diaspora groups invest in social and economic networks are of relevance and interest to policy makers of host and home countries. By dissemination of partial, timely and accurate info can facilitate policy dialogs and knowledge transfer. Not simple, but it engages people in moderated discussions with diverse viewpoints and become more sensitized to the many perspectives. There is always the risk of having violence directed at us. At the same time we recognize the web is a way for civil society to expression. Content can influence positive debates on conflict transformation, peace and reconciliation and the work towards peace.
In 25 years there has not been peace. What really have YATV really done? Has it changed minds of politicians? Violence has escalated?
So now please respond to the questions I posed to each of you.
(He briefly recapped the questions, but I did not quite catch them.)
Dan: One of the things that those of us in places like America try or should try and remember is that the risks of doing citizen and professional journalism are low for them. IN general the worse thing is someone might sue you. Not that way around the world. Have to be conscious people are taking risk to tell truth. When they are paid to do that. But it is a very important question to ask should se be inviting citizens NOT paid to take risk to jump into the middle. People will do it because they care about their country and their children’s future, but we have to be extremely cautious at some level. The people at Witness have been concerned that the DON’t put people at risk. Part of the answer is some technological means of protecting identity, the people who need anonymity. Generally don’t think people should be anonymous except where people are at risk. When people volunteer to take risks, I won’t stand in their way.
Steven: In current Malaysian debate you are either with us or against us. Have you faced this by the virtue of the work you do?
We have been facing this for 8 years. 3 years ago raided by police, seized 19 computers, police reports against journalists, countless. It is part of being independent journalists here in Malaysia. We are not as bad as Philippines or Sri Lanka who face more challenges. We don’t disappear or get kidnapped. The worse is imprisonment or getting sued. It should not stop us from doing what we should be doing. In terms of having to choose between riots on the streets and democracy, then you have to ensure stability in the country. It is the same old thing you hear from governments elsewhere. Always the same excuse put out that we are protecting citizens when in fact they are protecting themselves. Believe government should fear the people rather than people fear the government. I think it shouldn’t be of concern to use. I have a strong belief in the maturity of the people. If we give them enough information they are able to exercise repsonsitiliby in using information and to act. Only when you have agent provocoteaurs, that is causing the problems. Not the people.
Sanjana: Ory you have created something that the government fears. Taking it forward to a new generation, what community lies behind your work?
Ory : there is a sustainability challenge. When I started a bit naïve. I thought we’d set up this blog and all the other bloggers would volunteer to generate data. That hasn’t happened and not sure why. The culture of volunteerism and civic activism is not strong. Everyone things someone else should do it. It takes time. Even asking minimal time – it hasn’t happened. The community I thought would develop around it hasn’t appeared. I’m finding myself turning to paying people to generate content – going back to more traditional media, writing micro grants to get funding. IN terms of long term sustainability there is opportunity – could get funding for it. But the problem for me is I become another NGO. I don’t want to. Then I’d need a grant writer and an office, subject to this and that, chasing money. Been trying to convince people to give me money for specific small things, elections, mobile functionality (SMS updates on politicians). Got a young developer to write a program. But not from volunteers. There is a money element that has to come in to it and begin to resemble and organization and that removes some of the beauty of how we work now. Want it to become bigger than me, but people have constraints. Don’t have the luxury of time and resources that I do. Very different from the States Was looking at sites like DailyKos with a lot of community and I assumed that would happen.
Sanjana: We rely on YATV to support our work in civil society. What change or impact has that made in changing mindsets.
Shani – of course not, we have not brought an end to war. War is a big business going on for 30 years and vested interests in continuing it. But we can say we have contributed toward making some change in public mindset. Give voice to antiwar/pro peace movement by highlighting civili society. It has made us vulnerable to attack by state agents and others not interested in peace. It has been a bad year for us. Individuals have been threatened, and organization. Journalists are not comfortable going out.
Will tech help? I think it will, perhaps make us less vulnerable when using internet more. We are still vulnerable to risk of violence and we realize that. Anyone promoting peace are just as vulnerable.
Questions from the Floor:
· (First questioner talked too fast for me – ) Gobsmacked at newspaper coverage today. Googled – wondering why MalaysiaKini was behind pay wall. Aren’t you putting yourself in danger of keeping your important information away from those who should see it? Is it too centralized? (Man this guy talks fast .) Glad this panel exists. Other panels focus on development and tip toe around the fact that many governments are oppressive and focus on economic development before human rights may be cart before horse.
o Subscription wasn‘t what we wanted. Started out free w/ advertising. But government put a squeeze on our advertisers. We were unable to raise the money. For me personally independent media need independent financing, full stop. Very basic thing for us. We get it from our readers. The fact that our content is behind a wall is unfortunate but we have a liberal policy to let bloggers put our content, and a lot of videos are on You Tube. We recognize we risk a social function that we must perform. So quite liberal in protecing our IP.
· I’m Natalie – one of the young social entrepreneurs, working with disenfranchised youth to use new media. In UK press is often white, middle class elite. Internet gives voice to people with other backgrounds. Concerned that internet of future will become the same narrow demographics. How can we work now to prevent that from happening. Ory brilliant example of work – you are also an educated, confident lawyer to use the web.
o Dan – I take for granted because of advancement of hardware technology and growth in opens source software, not worried about cost of using these technology. The question is if networks will be open enough. It doesn’t address larger question of education, social and economic gaps. People with no time to do anything else beyond take care of their families. We can distribute production and access in ways never before possible.
o Ory – When it comes to political coverage, it is difficult to get people engaged because of the risk. I have no fear, but colleagues ask not to use their names because they are fearful. So I can’t imagine how even less exposed feel about doing this work. You either are comfortable or not. I work with very local journalists, don’t have opportunity to work for big papers and I pay them small stipends. Build them up as well. Make the forums interactive and allow people who might not want to do their own blog or website, but to leave a comment. Moderate how the debate goes. People come back again and again and begin to feel engaged, their voices heard. Using the tools in more interactive way. Facebook and YouTube are popular that way.
· Center for Technology in…. Question about pull and push. If you look at push – Algeezeera and Fox. People who viewed Gulf war from on or the other have no common view. In new media there is opportunity for richness, but people cluster around outlets that reinforce their own preconceptions. How do you bridge the polarization from push and pull perspective. I
o More comfortable that the pull media, the media we are talking about here, is going to be better for crossing boundaries than traditional media because of the elemental using of the WW – the hyperlink. People point to each other (“that idiot”), giving people a chance to look at opposing ideas and there is some early data that people actually go look. Need research. The beginnings o of possibilities that we are going to be better at getting a shot at visibility to the other POV.