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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid