Citizen journalism as a form of civic participation, is a product of technological advances but also a response to the societal needs to broaden an insufficient or altered information space and make it more adaptable to people’s needs. Many believe the traditional press on the continent is under threat, with commercialization and government interests controlling content and concentrating ownership. A lack of funding is shrinking which limits the ability to do investigative journalism and innovate quickly. Citizen journalists provide, in this context, an opportunity to witness and report on issues affecting people’s daily lives and go directly to the people with the information, using digital tools. The webinar:
- Analyzes the social context of the practice of citizen journalism in Africa.
- Assesses the technological basis of citizen journalism and its access limitations.
- Explores relevant and engaging content to gather and amplify citizen voices.
- Reflects on innovative news sources, such as citizen reporting platforms.
- Addresses quality controls and professional standards, in relation to citizen journalism.
- Evaluates the democratic value of citizen journalism, as a way of appreciating its transformative power.
Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi
Citizen journalism is a form of civic participation and a product of technological advances but also a response to the societal needs to broaden an insufficient or altered information space and make it more adaptable to people’s needs. It is important to analyse the digital context, create access to digital tools and to the ways that citizens use them, and to meet professional standards, but many African governments have been making this especially difficult as they control the media and build on transformative power. Citizen journalism is a resolution to the limited freedom of press and promising innovation in the media on the African continent. Many citizens believe the traditional press on the continent is under threat, with growing commercialization and government interests controlling content and concentrating ownership.
A lack of funding is growing which limits the ability to do investigative journalism. Citizen journalists provide, in this context, an opportunity to witness and report on issues affecting people’s daily lives and go directly to the people with the information. However, it is crucial to understand the social context where citizen journalists practice and the limitations on the access to the technology needed to acquire innovative news sources, such as citizen reporting platforms.
Press freedom and citizen journalism in Kenya are akin to the sustainability of journalism.
In Kenya, the freedom of press is celebrated in this challenging time when journalists face many issues including a struggling business model, the mental health of journalists, job insecurity, and the infodemic of fake news and disinformation. All these crises compound to a frustration among Kenyan citizens, a frustration in local media, and a need to access conclusive, unbiased news. Citizens often consume local news as they are looking for high quality information of the Covid-19 crisis and expect journalists to act as advocates of the community. Meanwhile, news media organizations cannot meet the expectations of their audience. Rise of citizens journalism has been particularly supported by social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Nowadays, the average citizen has a very low tolerance for inaccuracy in their news. They see grammatical errors, misrepresentation, and citizen journalists are able to express their opinions on these errors. Citizens can share their stories and videos directly through social media platforms where journalists and citizens are often on equal playing grounds. More frequently, misinformation and disinformation are frustrating citizen journalists. To combat disinformation, news media organizations and the mainstream media can identify opportunities for citizen journalism by creating institutions that are centralized on a community’s needs.
In Zimbabwe, mobile journalism plays an important role in citizen journalism. There are few radio stations and one television station, so citizen journalists feel a disparity in the production video content between their news media and the ability for individuals in their own capacity to record and share information. More recently, the government has been using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to silence the opposing voices in the media, but citizen journalists believe in a responsibility to disclose the needs of their communities to the greater public.
Citizen journalism provides diversity in the media content. In Sierra Leone, press freedom is an important foundation of citizen’s rights. Specifically in Sierra Leone, it is difficult for average citizens to reach the media, so mobile phones give power to citizens to tell and share their stories as it is crucial that people have the freedom to speak their minds. For example, young people with mobile phones have been able to capture instances of police brutality, share these instances, and tell the public what has been happening. People seek information that is credible and through citizen journalism people can express their views, discuss the issues they find important, and amplify their voices when the media has let them down.
- Natasha Kimani, Research and Media Program Lead, Africa No Filter, Kenya
- Sallu Kamuskay, Founder, Salone Messenger Sierra Leone
- Privilege Musvanhiri, Freelance Journalist, Zimbabwe
- Ruth Omar Esther, Freelance Journalist, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Dr. Njoki Chege, Director, Innovation Centre at the Graduate School of Media and Communications, Aga Khan University
- Emmanuel Yegon, Co-founder & Communications Director at Mobile Journalism Africa
- Aurra Kawanzaruwa, Director, Africa is Digital, Board Member Digital Communication Network Africa, Zimbabwe
The webinar is produced by Digital Communication Network Global, World Learning and Mobile Journalism Africa.