From demonstrations to social movements, environmental disasters, and humanitarian crisis, the civil society has been recording videos, taking photographs, reporting and sharing information online where sometimes even professional journalists couldn’t reach. In many cases, citizen journalism goes beyond just eyewitness and sharing information, especially in countries where freedom of speech faces obstacles and limitations.
The Southeast Asian region is recently witnessing an increase of the citizen journalism phenomenon, thanks to the spread and accessibility of the Internet and the need to talk about topics that mainstream media does not cover. Being a journalist in some Southeast Asian countries may not be as dangerous as in other nations in the world, but some governments use abusive control and legislation to limit the freedom of speech, implement some censorship or even, and most common, influence media and journalists to practice self-censorship. Considering the control government exerts on media, the lack of media pluralism and media’s often government-friendly attitudes, mainstream media is sometimes lacking diversity of voices and the audience and citizens perceive that their voices are unrepresented.
Malaysia has become one of the countries in the region implementing citizen initiatives that turned out being successful examples of citizen participation in the production and consumption of information. The spread of the Internet access through smartphones, which are getting cheaper, is growing rapidly, especially reaching rural areas. Half of the Malaysian population is under 30 years old and they represent one of highest rates of people worldwide using social media platforms to report and share stories.
The Malaysian citizen journalist platform Malaysiakini has published to date more than 2000 articles and produced 1900 videos by more than 150 citizen journalists. One of the key points of Malaysiakini success is the implementation of more than 80 citizen journalism training workshops: The idea behind this course is to equip its participants, regardless of background, with journalistic skills to improve their writing, digital storytelling, video shooting, and editing, etc… – remarks the Malaysiakini platform as one of their main goals. From students, children, teachers, farmers, to health workers, a broad range of people working in different fields and coming from diverse backgrounds are reporting on events happening in their communities or issues they are concerned about, covering topics like culture, arts, health problems, community’s needs, politics, etc.
Many critics point out citizen journalism’s lack professional background, sometimes unbalanced, too personal and non-formal approach in reporting, often lacking in-depth context and analysis. However, rather than looking at citizen journalism as an alternative to mainstream journalism, it could also be seen as an opportunity for communities, ethnic minorities and individuals to raise their voices and bring plurality to mainstream media.
There are many positive outcomes from citizen’s participation in producing, sharing and consuming information that is affecting their lives and communities daily. Citizen journalism can bring the diversity of voices and content from different cultural backgrounds, it empowers individuals to participate in opinion-making and public sphere discussions and challenges mainstream popular culture (Lievrouw, 2011). Democratizing the access to digital tools is providing ordinary people with the chance to participate in the creation and production of information. Thus, considering that citizen’s participation is key to social change, new media and citizen journalism platforms are providing opportunities at a grassroots level to participate, strengthen democratic practices and promote critical thinking (Lievrouw, 2011; Balaraman, and others, 2015).
*Credit Featured Image by Citizen Science Reporter, credit Malaysiakini’s Camp with SEACO
Balaraman, R.A; Hashim, N.H; Hasno, H; Ibrahim, F; Arokiasmy, L (2015), New Media: Online Citizen Journalism and Political Issues in Malaysia in Soc. Sci. & Hum.23 (S): 143-154
Lievrouw, Leah (2011), Alternative and Activist New Media Oxford: Polity Press.