What Syrian activists can learn from Libyan citizen journalism…

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Uncategorized
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A year on from Libya’s triumphant revolt and for most Libyans there is much to celebrate: The successful liberation from Gadaffi’s iron grip, a chance at a fresh start, a chance at democracy and the freedom to openly air their views about the lack of systemic changes and the inadequacies of the NTC. Whilst poverty and food insecurity have been suggested as the main factors in the Arab uprisings, perhaps an equally significant catalyst has been the lack of a vocal outlet for these issues and further the suppression of identities and ideologies generally.

In an interview I had with a member of the Libya al Hurra media team, I was told that “within hours of freedom [in the Nafusa Mountains] printed papers emerged using their traditional ‘Amazigh‘ language (2011).”  The revolution started with the first simple expressions of free speech: simple chanting; protest marching; and citizen first hand accounts of what was happening on the streets. It grew because tasting this freedom was fuel for the fire.

Libyans have a lot to thank its brave and bold citizen journalists for, including those providing vital alternative media sources like Libya al Hurra, having brought the voices of the Libyan people from their hiding places and let them shout out to the world. This reporting not only helped to “galvanize a movement very quickly (2011)” but it provided some solid evidence about what was actually happening inside Libya on which the international community could base their actions.

Whilst organised media oulets like Libya al Hurra managed to provide vital reporting on events inside the country with the right equipment, professional footage and bold interviewing, those armed with a simple mobile phone can also be credited with important reporting in capturing the momentous events as they unfolded.

Citizen journalism is growing increasingly important as a tool for exposing human rights abuses. However, good reporting requires more than just a mobile handset, it requires understanding the type of information one needs to be able to extract from the footage. Data verification is essential if footage is to be used to take action against atrocities in the ongoing uprising throughout the MENA region. Take the following two Youtube videos alleging to portray the protest marches in Tripoli one year ago (neither of these films contain disturbing images):

In the first film there is a lot of noise and we can see that fires have been lit. We might be able to assume from this that there are lots of people around and that there is a sense of disorder on the streets. What we can’t assume is that there are lots of revolutionaries on the streets protesting and that this is taking place in Tripoli and the reason for this is that we can’t see who is there or even where they are.

In the second film we can see clearly that there are many, hundreds perhaps thousands of people, marching in protest and clearly chanting. But again we can not verify the location of this protest because there are no obvious identifiable landmarks on which to base this evidence.

What is needed, if citizen journalism is to be affective, is clear verifiable information. However, one additional important consideration is that, whilst we want proof in the reporting, every effort should be undertaken to protect the identities of people who’s security may be threatened.

Further reading on this topic:

Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives

‘This is citizen journalism at its finest’: YouTube and the public sphere in the Oscar Grant shooting incident

Principles of Citizen Journalism


YouProve: Authenticity & Fidelity in Mobile Sensing


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