News / Middle East

Press Freedom Day Notes Impact of Citizen Journalism

A man throws a rock at a passing tank in a location given as Deraa on April 25, 2011, in this still image from an amateur video
A man throws a rock at a passing tank in a location given as Deraa on April 25, 2011, in this still image from an amateur video

Multimedia

William Ide

May 3, 2011, the United Nations will mark World Press Freedom Day.  This year’s event comes at a time when social media, mobile phones and the Internet are playing an increasing role in giving a voice to the oppressed.  As recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown, so-called "citizen journalists" are playing a major role.

Syria

Street Protesters in Syria enraged over the deaths of pro-democracy activists are finding their way onto the Internet, even as the government continues a brutal crackdown.  In one recent video, scores marched through the streets and then scatter,  as the sound of gunfire fills the air.

Although amateur videos cannot be independently verified, social media and citizen journalists are helping rally protesters.

Adel Iskandar, a new media specialist at Georgetown University here in Washington, says they are also documenting protests against the injustices that individuals across the region say they have suffered for decades.

"They do have a journalistic responsibility, a huge journalistic responsibility in the case of Syria, where there are no journalists on the ground," said Iskandar. "This task is actually colossal because they are literally the world’s eyes and ears."

North Africa


Uprisings already have toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia, and the outcome of mass protests elsewhere in the Mideast and North Africa remains to be seen.

Courtney Radsch of Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights monitoring group, says mobile phones in the Arab world have become a powerful multimedia tool because most people have them.  

"Simply by snapping a photo or recording a chant or taking a video of police brutality or opposition protests and then in many cases they are on the 3G networks, these more advanced networks, so they can upload video and photos directly, without having to go back to a computer, without risking their phone being confiscated," said Radsch.

Georgetown University's Adel Iskandar notes that much of the video and photos coming out of Syria and other countries in the region can be found on the social networking site Facebook, which has become a clearing house for information for online postings.

"So now Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and other [television] networks are relying exclusively on content produced by citizen journalists in Syria, and have done the same in Bahrain and Egypt and elsewhere," he said.

Limitations

Although citizen journalists are playing a major role in dissemination information about events in these troubled countries, Courtney Radsch says it is unlikely that they will eventually replace traditional journalists.

"It’s not sustainable to rely on anonymous random citizens for coverage of mainstream politics, mainstream economic issues," she said. "They tend to focus on the fringes, on the issues that are not being covered by the mainstream media or holding the mainstream media to account."

Despite its power, there are limits to what social media and the Internet can do.  During the uprisings in Egypt, for example, the government shut down the Internet.

In Tunisia, authorities reportedly hacked into the Facebook accounts of people believe to be behind the unrest.  In Syria, authorities are believed to be clogging Twitter feeds with spam, such as postings with messages unrelated to the unrest.  

Empowerment

Courtney Radsch of Freedom House says that although social networks can empower citizens by connecting activist networks and the international media, there is a downside.

"At the same time, because they are public, they are also susceptible to surveillance and to manipulation by governments," she said.

Although the Egyptian government’s shut down of the Internet was successful initially, it eventually was overpowered by protests in the streets.

"It is a serious decision to take and one [that governments] need to think about it in advance," said Adel Iskandar. "And in some cases, it backfires because the human will to express oneself once the ball is rolling, if you will, is so insatiable that there is really nothing you can do."

Analysts say that in addition to failing to stop the uprisings in Egypt, the government's shutdown of the Internet also cost Egypt an estimated $90 billion in international trade.   

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid