Truth and peace go hand in hand. For reconciliation to be successful the truth about past atrocities must be brought to light. It is only then that people, no matter which side they stood on during a conflict, can find a common narrative upon which they can build a common future after it. What happens when the evidence of atrocities is concealed though? Destroyed? History is written by the victors; the saying goes. With the help of ICTs these pieces of evidence can be captured, preserved, and even brought out into the world.
Naturally, citizen journalism, also called participatory journalism, shares many features with peace journalism—including giving a voice to variety of different views and opinions, and thus an inclusion into the mainstream narrative. In recent years, particularly in view of the many conflicts in the Middle East, many mainstream media outlets have also come to utilise citizen journalism to support their own coverage of a conflict. This can have a number of reasons. Journalists might have been denied access from a conflict area, or, as is most often the case, media outlets deem the situation on the ground too dangerous for their own personnel.
An interesting example of this is the citizen journalism happening in Syria. As the violence erupted and progressed into a full-blown conflict, Syrian citizen journalists began to document the crimes of the Bashar al-Assad regime. They were given protection by the Syrian rebel forces. Foreign media used this dynamic to frame their own stories. The Al-Jazeera video below is an excellent evidence of this.
In many cases, it falls into the hands of big media outlets to choose, which of the content produced by citizen journalists is aired. And there certainly exists coverage of the wrongdoings of both sides. The next Al-Jazeera video below shows citizen journalists that focus on the “mistakes of the opposition” instead. It was aired a whole year after the above video and quite clearly highlights a shift in the discourse.
Looking beyond the use of citizen journalism in mainstream media, Epstein and Reich argue that citizen journalism “offers [also] an alternative to the mainstream media in terms of structure and, consequently, in terms of discourse. Some scholars suggest that, unlike traditional journalism, caught in a web of institutional constraints, the blogosphere offers an environment where ‘high’ journalistic values may flourish, such as those concerning the depth and representation of multiple perspectives” (2010, p.228).
There are certainly a number of blogs that break out from the masses of blogs in the blogosphere. Their voices are heard. I would argue though that these blogs are the exception to the rule. Many blogs disappear as quickly as they appeared, and remain entirely unnoticed.
Sanjana Hattotuwa is giving an example how multiple voices can be brought together and thus be made available to a broader audience. Launched in December 2006, his website Groundviews was the first tri-lingual citizen journalism initiative in Sri Lanka, a country which has been devastated by a civil war from 1983-2009, more than 25 years. Groundviews provides “many perspectives, events, processes, needs and aspirations of those most affected by the conflict and living in the embattled North and East find expression and engagement on the site. Ordinary citizens, weary of violence, write them. Artists, human rights and media activists, academics, young bloggers and thinkers – few of them with any background or training in journalism – write them” (Hattotuwa, 2011, p.244).
In addition, it seems the website does not only document the perspectives of individuals on the conflict, it also benefits the writers in a very therapeutic manner: “Many say to write is cathartic and an act of deviance against violence with impunity” (Hattotuwa, 2011, p.244).
Do you know of other platforms of citizen journalism? Share them with us in the comments!
Hattotuwa, Sanjana (2011). Expanding the Art of the Possible: Leveraging Citizen Journalism and User Generated Content (UGC) for Peace in Sri Lanka. In South Asian Media Cultures: Audiences, Representations, Contexts. eds. Shakuntala Banaji, p.235-254, London: Anthem Press.
Epstein, Dmitry, and Dor Reich (2010). Citizen Journalism Online: Promise of an Alternative Conflict Discourse? In Web Journalism: A New Form of Citizenship? eds. Sean Tunney and Garrett Monaghan, p.226-247, London: Sussex Academic Press.