Anyone can be a journalist, but they need to be protected
July 19, 2012 1 Comment
It’s been seven years since US-based Slate magazine declared – Who Is a Journalist? Anybody who wants to be. The conversation is far from over.
The media critic Jay Rosen has gone to great lengths to identify ‘acts of journalism’ as indiscriminant of the accreditation of the person reporting. In fact, the argument that bloggers are not journalists is one that should long have been put to rest.
The importance of acts of journalism carried out by civilian or otherwise self-declared correspondents has never been more prevalent in today’s news ecosystem. Take the conflict in Syria, where the local people picked up video or smart phone technologies and conveyed the news.
It should almost go without saying that they are at great risk for their bravery.
As previously noted on this blog, the catch-phrasing of Arab Spring movements like ‘the Twitter Revolution’ or ‘the Facebook Revolution’ highlight the influence of social media and personal technology as a means of reporting on current events in real time, by people in the midst of what’s happening.
Recently launched platforms like Tiziano Project’s StoriesFrom join with established outlets such as GlobalVoices to amplify the information from under-reported or non-covered stories. Often, these are stories told by everyday local people taking action, not foreign correspondent sent from afar.
Major news outlets are beginning to make a concerted effort to harness the power of this fluctuating yet massive resource, offering training webinars and seminars to increase the value, validity and safety of citizen reporting.
Initiatives are being held to promote new ways of thinking through a safe agenda for all journalists, with a particular focus on local journalists. Increasingly, the local journalist is often a blogger or social media-empowered citizen.
Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, expressed his concerns about the current state of impunity threatening all journalists, adding a quote specifically about citizen reporters, in his latest report to the United Nations Human Rights Council:
“It is a threat to the human rights project as a whole when a blogger is tracked [down] and her head is found next to her keyboard with a threatening note”
There is real danger for these kinds of reporters and it comes in physical and digital forms.
Spyware and basic police techniques are often employed by despotic or oppressive regimes to track down and intimidate, imprison and censor citizens who speak out against atrocity.
And because the primary means of sharing acts of journalism is via the Internet, cyber warfare has become the ultimate tool of oppression for governments who wish to silence their critics.
Laws that could threaten how the Internet is used are not only a threat to the general public – they are also of particular concern to local and self-declared journalists.
SOPA and ACTA, which proposed anti-piracy laws effecting freedom of speech, have been quashed in the US and Western Europe by an active public. Unfortunately similar laws, with wide-ranging implications of censorship and draconian control of information are simmering in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In Russia, the Kremlin has just passed severe Internet legislation giving wide-ranging authority to shut down servers and websites under very circumspect terms. All of these laws directly impact the work of anyone who chooses to engage in an act of journalism, whether that means exposing shoddy work by municipal services in their township, or shining a light on a massacre in the midst of a civil war.
We must recognize that if anyone who wants to be a journalist can be, then we must all participate in the protection of journalism.
The information shared by reporters of every stripe is what enables us to make decisions, is the cornerstone of basic human rights. The public must be aware of the plight of all journalists and demand their safety and respect. To again quote Mr. Heyns of the UN,
“It is not enough that governments and others are told that journalists need protection. They have to understand why this is needed.”
Eric Matthies is a documentary filmmaker based in the US. He is currently working on ‘Killing the Messenger‘, a transmedia project which focuses on the violent censorship of journalists in hostile or oppressive environments.
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