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By Adrian Pereira, November 19, 2021.
The fourth session of SIGNIS Asia's "Journalism in a Fragmented World” webinar saw three media experts coming together to critically analyse the role of Citizen Journalism (CJ) today. The session dissected the role of Citizen Journalists (CJs) within the context of its potential, given the emergence of new technology and platforms, and found that there were still many unanswered questions. The three experts were Arul Prakkash of WITNESS.org; Carol Andrade of St Pauls Institute of Communication Education, Mumbai India; and Dr Mastura Mahamed of Putra University Malaysia.
Strategy vs Tools/Platform
While Citizen Journalism has become a potent tool in bringing about change and giving voice to the voiceless, CJs must ensure a concrete strategy when using these tools and platforms. There are already billions of videos on YouTube and Facebook, which naturally means extensive competition in terms of grabbing the attention of the public and policymakers. Without a clear strategy, attempts to expose the truth are likely to fail, and – worse – put the lives of those affected, in danger. Additionally, there is also a struggle to neutralize misinformation, disinformation, media manipulation and other forms of media exploitation.
CJs and Mainstream Media: collaborate or compete?
While both CJs and mainstream media have a distinct role to play, the fundamental goals are the same: to expose the truth. Both media types can collaborate and cooperate but some paradoxes, like transparency and exclusivism, subject CJ to closer scrutiny, despite the many new technologies used by boots-on-the-ground CJs. However, with the latest technology, there was nothing to stop them from becoming successful gatherers and purveyors of news. But speaker Carol Andrade opined that grassroots CJs must professionalise and graduate into mainstream media if they wanted to uphold this sector's integrity.
CJs for Empowerment
Last but not least, CJs have the potential to empower the youths who are taking a professional interest in exposing the truth, by sharing knowledge, experiences, networking and new connections. Amongst the many challenges currently confronting CJs are seniors or former editors who now play the role of gatekeepers. But there can be positive outcomes, provided that the divided generations come together instead of remaining siloed.
Concluding the session, moderator Augustine Anthuvan of SIGNIS reminded everyone that when writing about the plight of the people, CJs need to be aware of whether they are actually helping, or doing more damage. He challenged them to see beyond the "two sides of a story" and expose a third side (or more), as professional journalists, writers, and producers should.
SIGNIS Asia Journalism Desk and LICAS News Asia are the organisers of the SIGNIS Asia Journalism Fellowship Programme on the theme “Journalism in a Fragmented World,” a seven-week programme for lay Catholic and like-minded journalists working in the secular media. Offered virtually, the seven-week webinar brings together 25 selected participants from 14 countries to build capacity and promote exchange among media professionals and journalists who want to use their platform for social change. Programme details: https://www.signisasia.net/journalism-in-a-fragmented-world-webinar-2021/