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I’m slowly but surely shifting my activity over to ivansigal.net. Burning Bridge will remain up but I won’t be updating it regularly.
This post was originally published on Global Voices.
Pakistan today would seem primed for rapid growth in internet use. The country has had explosive growth of FM radio, satellite and cable TV set in motion by regulatory changes that allow non-state ownership of mass media. Cell phone use has also skyrocketed, with over 90 million subscribers. With a growing middle class that numbers some 30-40 million in a country of some 180 million people, Internet use should also see similar growth.
However, there are several constraints that mitigate that expansion, both structural, as in chronic electricity shortages, and social, particularly focused on language. Literacy hovers at around 50% in Pakistan, but while most people understand Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, less that 10% of the population speaks and writes it as a native. Provincial languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, and Balochi, as well regional languages such as Seraiki and Kashmiri are native languages for the majority of the population, and English is the official language of governance.
This language fragmentation has consequences for internet use. No one Pakistani language effectively serves both the reading and content creation needs of Pakistan’s netizens. As a consequence, English remains the popular choice online. In an interview, Adnan Rehmat of Intermedia Pakistan says that English is an “aspirational” language, a marker for education and access to resources, and because English provides access to a global linguistic community. Additionally, several regional Pakistani languages such as Punjabi are primarily oral languages, without strong literary cultures.
A key pressing issue with relevance to both the local Internet and Mobile Technology scenario in Pakistan has been availability of local content and making the local content widely accessible to the community at large across Pakistan and the entire world using a variety of currently available technology platforms.
There have been few concerted efforts to create Unicode fonts for Pakistani language scripts. Nastaliq, the popular font for Urdu, is not yet widely adapted in Unicode. Online writing in the main either uses an Arabic font, as with the relatively popular BBC and Google fonts, or it uses image files pasted into text.
There is not yet a broadly accepted font in use for either mass media of citizen media production. Many mainstream media still use image files, which requires that the text be composed on another platform, and discourages hyperlinking, as with a recent issue of the Daily Jang online.
The Pakistani government has provided little policy guidance for language use. In an interview Ahmad Shahzad of Bytes for All notes that the National Language Authority of Pakistan lacks resources, knowledge of digital issues, and a sense of urgency or policy priorities for Pakistani language expansion online.
There are a number of projects that have been working to fix this problem over the past decade. Perhaps the most comprehensive comes out of the Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing, at Lahore’s National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences (CRULP). The Centre’s director, Professor Sarmad Hussain, has been working to support Nastaliq in Unicode since 2002. They describe their objective to ”conduct research for the evolution of computational models of Urdu and Pakistan’s other regional languages.” Their projects develop standard character sets, localize popular software and online applications, such as Microsoft Word, Firefox, and Open Office, and script processing for fonts that can support all Pakistani languages.
They are also working on optical character recognition and speech processing tools such as screen readers for the illiterate and blind users, and language processing tools such as spell checkers and machine translation. CMS platforms in Nastaliq, as well as mobile scripts.
Additionally, CRULP’s PAN Localization project is working to develop local language computing capacity in a dozen Asian languages, including Urdu, Pastho, and Bangla. The project seeks to develop tools to facilitate the use localization of advanced applications.
These scripts and their wider promotion, as well as the availability of content management systems in Urdu and language processing tools, has gone some way to making Urdu a functional language of content creation.
Other tools now available facilitate the shift from English to Urdu, including Google’s Urdu transliteration tool and the Dynamic Language Tools Bookmarklet, which supports transliteration of Urdu to both English and Hindi. Syed Ghulam Akbar, the bookmarklet’s creator, describes his motivation in a post on the Pakistani science blog STEP:
The main inspiration behind this tool development was not actually Urdu writing. In fact, there are many existing tools and applications which let users type Urdu either using a special keyboard layout or by using roman script transliteration. What actually inspired me to develop this tool was to provide a way to easily convert the roman content on all the existing web-pages to Urdu script so that it is more readable.
Together, the advancement of scripts, applications, and platforms in Urdu will go some way to advancing a culture of online production in Urdu. The relative lag in their availability does, however, highlight the general sense that English will continue to be the language of choice for many in Pakistan’s online world.
This lag can be addressed in several ways, including wide promotion of available tools and their application, support for both mass media and citizen media communities to discover, learn about, and implement creative use of these tools, and support to build bridges and networks among communities. For this reason, Fouad Bajwa is seeking to build an Online Urdu Encyclopedia:
It will create a converged environment overtime for presenting updated knowledge that is usable through reading, listening and visuals for both social and economic awareness, education, knowledge application in various fields, higher education, competitive exams, expert resources and endless Urdu language options.
At present there is no Urdu Wikipedia community, and few Urdu-language blog aggregators, such as
, capacity among mainstream media to produce searchable-text, Unicode-based online media, and a lack of mobile telephony platforms and applications for Urdu.
Correction: Wikipedia in Urdu is available at
We’re getting first takes on citizen media response on Haiti. Blogs, photos, video, Twitter, mapping platforms, beginnings of collaboration between citizen initiatives, development organizations, and mass media. Today’s going to be a busy day.
I’ve been adding links to this post throughout the day. Noticing, due to the lack of access to telephony and internet, a relative paucity of sources. That will change quickly as the relief effort gears up. I hope that we see efforts to include and amplify Haitian voices and perspectives as the relief machinery kicks into gear. Please send links if you know ‘em. Categorizing:
Links from citizen media blogs and platforms:
Global Voices special coverage page Haiti earthquake 2010, and selected posts:
- In the aftermath of earthquake, eyewitness tweets from Haiti.
- Haiti: earthquake!
- Diaspora Mobilize to Help Haiti in Earthquake Aftermath.
- Haiti: Experiences of the Earthquake.
Ushahidi platform setup on Haiti at haiti/ushahidi.com. An Ushahidi blog post details other tracking information mapping and tracking efforts and platforms, including OpenStreetMap, GeoCommons, Sahana, and InSTEDD.
Haitifeed.com, a Haiti-based blog, providing a range of content.
Dan Kennedy roundup at his blog Media Nation: Citizen media and the earthquake in Haiti.
Reuters Alertnet Haiti earthquake liveblog.
NYT”s The Lede: Wednesday: Updates on Haiti’s Earthquake.
Curated Twitter feed from Georgia Popplewell focusing on content from inside Haiti.
Another curated feed from Jillian York, with content from Haiti and relief agencies.
Miami Herald Tweets from and about Haiti after the earthquake.
Wikipedia: 2010 Haiti earthquake page.
Links in French:
Live audio stream in French/Creole.
Haitian Times, online news source
A useful BBC story and video: Earthquake devastation emerges in Haiti.
Listindiario.com, from Santo Domingo in DR across the border, in Spanish.
USGeological Survey podcast, for the science behind the quake.
I remember the first time I found Global Voices. In 2004 I had been living in the former Soviet Union and was about to move to Bangkok. For the past few years I’d been working with local TV and radio stations in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and it was a big shift to focus on Southeast and East Asia. I needed a crash course in Asian current affairs. In the course of my research I came across a curious project called the North Korea Zone that aggregated and distilled information about North Korea, and functioned as a platform for conversation about that coverage. I was drawn to the site because it helped me to grasp a complicated international story quickly, and because it treated news coverage less as a product and more as a process.
Sadly, NKZone didn’t last long, but while it did, I was a fan. And when Rebecca MacKinnon, its author, helped launch Global Voices together with Ethan Zuckerman in the end of 2004, I followed from afar. At the time my work was all about helping local communities in Asia to gain access to media production, and to learn the skills necessary to build and run media outlets. As Global Voices emerged, I noticed that it had a similar ethos, but that it was able to link people without media institutions mediating their perspectives. As with NKZone, it became a go-to site to ground-truth my understanding of countries and news stories.
As I followed GV in its first years, something else happened: blogs went from being a peripheral Internet phenomenon to key tools to democratize media production and distribution. Internet access in the developing world also expanded enough have a mass impact on information flows. If media development had been all about creating media institutions and training professional staff to run them, suddenly, it was also about encouraging mass use of simple, nearly free tools to increase conversation, and disseminate all kinds of perspectives.
Global Voices was uniquely situated to take advantage of that shift. As a community made up primarily of volunteers, it could tap into diverse enthusiasms and ideas. It didn’t need to be guided by a complicated strategy, but simply to set out a few basic principles for action, as captured in its manifesto, and allow people to experiment, and play, in its space.
After years of benefiting from the enthusiasms and writing of GVers, 18 months ago I had the pleasure to become part of the community. I joined just as GV began a new phase of existence, leaving its original home at the Berkman Center and becoming an independent nonprofit organization. It’s been my job in that time to help GV to continue, and to preserve the spirit and energy of the project even as we’re faced with the reality of funding needs, increasing global presence, and the pressure that funding brings to articulate both a vision and a strategy. I’ve quickly learned that at GV, leadership is primarily expressed by listening, and by ensuring that the way we work is indicative of the kind of media we’d like to have – transparent, enthusiastic, open, considerate, and joyful.
In the past five years, GV has grown tremendously. It’s now a community with some 350 authors, editors, and translators all working together to prove the premise of GV that we can write the media we want into existence. In the last year alone, we’ve produced unique and vital coverage on stories from Gaza, Madagascar, Fiji, Iran, Guinea, Honduras, and Cuba. We now translate GV into 18 active languages, with another 10 in beta. Collectively, the GV family of sites has an average of 500,000 unique visitors per month. This year, we’ve also launched innovative new projects that explore the boundaries of citizen media, such as our Translation Exchange research initiative, our online freedom of expression advocacy platform, Threatened Voices, our Russian blogosphere project, RuNet Echo, our new collaborative research project, the Transparency and Technology Network, and finally, our new online freedom of expression award, Breaking Borders, in collaboration with Google.
GV is strong on participation, community, and new ideas, but it needs your help to continue. With the marking of our 5th anniversary, we both celebrate our origins and look forward to a future of innovations, new initiatives, and a strong, vital community that continues to grow size and diversity.
Our future may include a user community, original content in multiple languages, and initiatives that take advantage of emerging tools of media production. We’re certain to continue to tell the story of citizen media, as it morphs from blogs, to micro-blogging, to social media, to mapping, to collaborative, multi-user production.
We’re excited by all the things we don’t know, and we’re looking forward to helping to create the future of citizen media. We also want you to join us, whether as an author or translator, collaborator, financial supporter, or active reader.
The paper, “Digital Media in Conflict-Prone Societies” that is the outcome of the work that originally motivated this blog has been published by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). I originally wrote the paper while a fellow at USIP, and now, more than a year later, it’s in print. Hopefully it’s still timely.
It seems that in the past year a lot of the issues discussed in the paper have reached more mainstream awareness. Conflicts in Georgia, Gaza, and Madagascar, civil unrest in Moldova, Iran, Fiji, China, and Guinea, and a terror attack in Mumbai have all played out in public spaces. Citizen media played important roles in each one of them, to organize opposition, to amplify alternative viewpoints, to report and record violence, and to track and identify opponents. Governments have responded by slowing or shutting internet and cell phone use (Iran, China). DDOS attacks and censorship have also been prominent (Georgia, Iran, China, Gaza) when governments and/or non-state supporters of parties to conflict have participated in shutting down opposing websites and cellular networks. Finally, activists and media have designed projects that support a greater flow of information, or attempt to map and parse information for accuracy and coherence (Madagascar, Mumbai, Gaza, Iran).
A short description, from CIMA, follows:
Throughout history, war has affected media, with conflict often creating an information void. In the 21st century, media has begun to affect war more than ever before. Digital media technologies – particularly participatory, networked tools – have increased communication and information dissemination in conflict settings, affecting all sides and involving new producers of news coverage. These new tools can be used to foment violence or to foster peace, and it is possible to build communication systems that encourage dialogue and nonviolent political solutions. The international media development community must adapt its conflict-zone programs to fit a new media environment, designing projects that encompass digital media applications that encourage more open communities and states, provide venues for dialogue, and reduce control of information.
We’ll be discussing the paper at CIMA October 27, together with Erik Hersman of Ushahidi. We’ll also consider a new generation of innovative digital media projects that focus on producing accurate information in conflict, often in the developing world, as local communities build digital media tools and applications for their own needs.
Burning Bridge has been in hibernation the past few months, breathing only on a delicious links respirator, as I wend my way through more pressing obligations. On a recent trip to Austria, however, on my way to the Salzburg Global Seminar, I went walking in the Hohe Tauern National Park with Oso and Rob:
Climbing the shoulder of the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain (feet on rock and snow, breathing actual air on an undeniably real cliff face),
we began discussing our approach to work, and craft. This was spurred in large part by Oso’s pending presentation for a talk in Budapest at Internet Hungary, which you can now find here. Oso’s concern is the continuation of craft in industrial economies, and whether in the realm of digital work, we can legitimately encumber certain kinds of activity with the name “digital craftmanship.” Without bowing to the pressure to create more neologisms (slacktivists beware!), the term seems to be gathering momentum. Oso longs for:
products that are produced slowly over time. For digital goods that are both beautiful and beautifully made
He then identifies a number of digital projects that roughly fit this definition of craft, focusing on the creation of digital tools such as phone/web 2.0 applications, websites, multimedia productions, data visualization, and website design tools.
Obviously there are clear access, education, and class issues inherent in any conversation about craft economies. Those issues obtain for digital craft as well, so I’m going to lay them aside for the moment. I’m interested initially in the question of whether digital craft is in some way fundamentally different from other kinds of craft, whether it is simply another iteration of the same question, and what it means to move from the digital to the physical.
My first impulse is to think that the claim of difference is overstated. Oso writes:
Seth Godin has found that of the top 100 companies worldwide only 32 of them produce actual physical things. Material culture and materialism are transitioning into digital culture and what might become ‘digitalism’, which has a different set of rules and values.
However, every one of those companies is deeply involved in industrial processes, whether they own and produce material goods, or pay for services managed by others. Our digital culture is also rooted in industry, with associated mineral resource exploitation and global trade implications, as any coltan miner can tell you. Those companies’ profits may come from value-added activities (information access, marketing, etc.), but the industrial economy has clearly not gone away.
So digital craft? In economic terms, it looks a lot like other expressions of craft – eddies of money, resources, and time that might make our lives better and more interesting at a personal level, but is deeply problematic as a fundamental challenge to mass economies that produce abundant and cheap products (inexpensive mass products are not necessarily of poor quality).
I spend a lot of time in chemical darkrooms these days, and at the same time spend time with people who have mostly left behind chemical photography, and are turning out high-end, digital photography prints, such as Frank Day. Frank involves craft in much of what he does, whether it’s building up a road bike, knocking together a table, making large-format chemical prints out of 8×10 field camera negatives, or lately, making large digital prints on massive ink-jet printers. Watching him, I’m tempted to say that craft is an attitude of how to relate to the world, and that the artful use of tools, whether digital or physical, is a manifestation of that attitude.
However, watching digital and chemical processes of craft, I do think there’s a difference in approach. At least with photography, this is manifest in how one deals with materials. Chemical processes allow the user to experiment with the material qualities of the thing. Temperature, dilution, combination, reaction; all physically change the outcome of the image in a darkroom. The creation of a digital print, however, is a painstaking and exacting process of matching the code for color correction for each brand of paper with each printer’s software. Without the correct formula, the image is useless. It’s possible to hack the color correction code, and produce something other than intended by the manufacturers, but this is a turning away from the processes at hand, rather than using what’s inherent in them. In other words, a creative process that seeks to counter the intentions of the material – hacking as craft.
This brings us straight to the DIY world – and here I’ll let Beth Kolko speak in this talk, titled “User, Hacker, Builder, Thief – Creativity and Consumerism in a Digital Age.”
The not very slow but definitely steady flow of computer technology into far corners of everyday life has changed fundamental cultural processes and affected how people work, learn, and play. It’s also provided lots of cool stuff to buy. But by some measures there has also been a somewhat fundamental failure of imagination in envisioning what hardware, software and services can look like which has resulted in users from outside targeted demographics adapting technology in unexpected and creative ways. This talk is about diversity of design, the cult of expertise, why hackers are the good guys and lays out the argument that theories of subjectivity and axe grinders can be part of the same conversation. Encouraging users to become hackers, builders, and thieves may be the best way to ensure creative and diverse design.
Here the world of art is also instructive. See, for instance, Camille Utterback’s interactive art. Utterback describes her work as “an attempt to bridge the conceptual and the corporeal.” Among other things, she builds interactive video installations for which she writes her own code. Her projects seek to make visible the link between the abstraction of code and the world’s materiality, for the purpose of contemplation. Her work is not craft – the creation of a thing of utility that best embodies its purpose – but it does open a window into how we perceive craft, and how digital expressions of it relate to the physical world.
Ethan Zuckerman begins this session by noting a deep commitment to amplifying voices from all over the world. Now we’re able to do this at much lower cost than we have before. We have the ability to create and share media at an unprecedented rate. We have infrastructures that tie us all together. Theoretically, a story anywhere can influence the entire world. However, there are many practical problems to getting the stories to the right audience, and figuring out how to meet demand for different kinds of stories.
Fabrice Florin explains NewsTrust – they see demand for news as the critical problem – and identifying quality and diverse sources as an important element in helping feed that demand. They use a hybrid of aggregation human effort to rate and amplify stories. NewsTrust has a rating based on quantitative measures of the quality of stories, as rated by volunteer reviewers.The reviewers themselves are also rated, with more trusted reviewers getting a higher profile on the site.
NewsTrust builds partnerships with different media outlets, identifies topics and themes, Fabrice finishes by the observation that demand for news needs to be built up – to bring people into the conversation by participating in the review process.
Ethan asks Fabrice about the traction he’s getting – do the partner relationships drive stories, such as the Washington Post or the Council on Foreign Relations does he see change at the personal level with millions of users. Fabrice says they receive upwards of 150,000 uniques per month, with 10,000 members and growing.
Evelyn Messinger, series producer of Link TV’s Global Pulse. Global Pulse extracts small segments of news from around the world, and compares them. Evelyn first began working on this kind of project in 1987 by shipping video from all over the world. She finds that even with the ease of moving content, demand remains a major problem. Every episode of Global Pulse has 8-12 sources providing a variety of perspectives. Their goal is to develop a short format that will help drive demand, whether on LinkTV or on YouTube. The most popular stories have been about the drug war in Mexico – picked up by the U.S. anti-immigration movement, and air crash stories. Ethan refers to CNN’s “international minute” as an example of siloed nature of international stories for U.S. audiences.
Persephone Miel of Internews spent 2008 looking at how digital media technologies are changing journalism, while a fellow at the Berkman Center, running Media Re:public. Now, at Internews, she’s looking at the same issues from the perspective of international media development.
If in the 1990s and much of the 2000s, Persephone’s work focused on supporting professional media organizations in the developing world, training journalism, building broadcast networks, and working on commercial revenue models. After observing the changes wrought by digital technologies in revenue and distribution systems, Persephone now sees a need for a hybrid approach to the “cyber-utopian approach” which thinks of participatory media as the solution for information needs, and bringing in the best elements of traditional, institutional journalism.
Kim Spencer of LinkTV begins by looking at global media’s role in the digital era. 10 years ago, we were setting up independent TV networks in Kazakhstan and the Balkans, but in the U.S., with hundreds of channels, there was still a real lack of quality international content online. Hence the motivation for LinkTV. Link won a set-aside for satellite broadcast, and is now in 32 million households via satellite. But that’s Link 1.0. Link 2.0 is their website, with hundreds of videos and documentaries available from around the world. LinkTV online also has 1/3 of its viewers from outside the U.S.
Kim profiles Mosaic - world news from the Middle East – which brings the Arab world perspective to American audience.
Link wants to engage, inform, and activate views. Their future goals are to use a base of video to create links to other videos, dialogue via Seesmic, and other perspectives available in online text. Link now has a prototype of a viewer using Freebase to bring related news stories that have to do with text embedded with a given story, as well as ways to take action or participate around that issue.
Question from the room – what are engagement metrics? To this point, we’ve been looking at metrics that are based on traditional news measures. How to measure engagement at it’s most important moment, when engagement matters, and how to build a causal link to the effect of the story.
Fabrice responds that NewsTrust now can reflect back to their reviewers how their perceptions and analysis change over time. Knowing more and quantifying how people’s views change by exposure to participation and dialogue.
Kim responds that most satellite viewers are part of red-state America. In their surveys, they’ve found significant social action as a result of watching, even among this community. They measure by using public opinion surveys asking participants, and by asking activist partners to measure how their engagement.
I ask how to respond to the fact that there are now multiple audiences, and that they may not be defined in the way that media traditionally expect. How do they adapt? How do they create a vision of what their audiences are? Fabrice notes that overall, world news is the most popular topic on NewsTrust, and that they are trying to create groups to help people refine their interests. Kim notes that a surprising number of viewers are first-generation Americans; Link is also strong in the 18-35 demographic, unlike the traditional public media demographic, which is under 5 and over 55. Kim speculates that this middle demographic doesn’t like being talked down to, and that Link provides an alternative. NewsTrust has picked up university partnerships, which has changed the demographic around their site. At Link, professors use a news remix tool to help teach media literacy.
BB -09 today kicks off with a look at local perspectives on public service media. This session is an overview of the variety of experience coming from the world, and how it might be applicable elsewhere. The speakers come from Korea, Madagascar, Kenya, the Phillippines, and the ethnic media experience in New York.
1. Kim Myoungjoon of MediAct in Korea works on empowerment to help support social change. he emphasizes the role of media activism – both alternative and mainstream. Kim notes that Korea has undergone rapid technological change, development, such that 100 mb download speeds are common; communications infrastructure better than in the US. Traditionally, there have been four areas of media activism in Korea:
-independent film and video
-trade union movement in mainstream media
-NGOs and citizens press reform
-Internet activism for alterantive media and advocacy
Since ’90s, trends in Korea are deregulation of media and an increase in media participation, together with democratization and neoliberal economic policy. Kim describes an activist agenda – public broadcasting and creating the concept of viewship rights. Longer-term agenda for media change with MediaAct is the institutionalization of public service media and citizen participation of the media.
2. Lova Rakotomalala, Co-founder, Foko-Madagascar and Author, Global Voices Online, talks to us about how social unrest in Madagascar has overwhelmed other news stories. The crisis kicked off around a land deal scandal to grant land to a South Korean country, facilitated by President Ravalomanana. On March 17, there was a military-driven coup that gave power to the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina.
Lova explains that several radio channels used to mobilize and polarize political positions. If local media played a role in the crisis, there was nearly no coverage overseas. Lova makes the argument that this crisis should matter to the rest of the world, because it happened because of the interconnected nature of development. Lova notes that there is a great deal of resentment toward the international community, and suspicions of favoritism in Madagascar. Much of this is based on agricultural policy, with development based on land deals that grant international businesses access to good agricultural land.
Lova also discusses Foko Madagascar. He quotes Michael Tyson – “Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth,” when explaining how Foko’s mission has changed from training and personal stories to filling in the gaps of international coverage – writing reports, taking pictures, and documenting the crisis, both on Foko and on Twitter. Now, 55 reporters produce content for Foko. It has also become a tool to reach out to mainstream media, with reports on CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Foko is also using frontlineSMS and Ushahidi platforms to aggregate and organize their content. Lova notes that Foko has more reporters in cities throughout the country than any other media.
In Madagascar, of 20 million people, only 160,000 have Internet access. and 2.2 million have cell phones. Radio remains the primary source of information.
Citizen journalism and cyber-activism have led to a backlash by security forces, with people being harassed and attacked. Additionally the government now proposes to regulate Internet content. Lova proposes the need for a vigorous defense of blogger’s rights.
3) Juana Ponce de Leon, Executive Director, New York. Community Media Alliance. The Alliance works with ethnic media in New York, translating and amplifying the needs of local ethnic media audiences in the New York area.
Most of these media outlets are small. 84% of ad revenue comes from local revenue, which means that migration to online presence is slow. Of 200 ethnic media in NYC, 36% were static, another 1/3 were beginning to create some interesting models, and the last 1/3 just post text. The Alliance is seeking how to help these small media create better online presence, including looking at Internet radio.
The Alliance works to connect ethnic media to the government, to MSM, and activist communities. An example of this kind of connecting work around the census. In New York, over 200 languages are spoken, yet the last NY census was only conducted in seven languages. Yet in New York, there is traditionally a low participation rate.
4) Daudi Were of Mentalacrobatics. Why democracy is so important for development. Daudi thinks that democracy is often poorly defined. He wants to focus on democracy as “government by discussion.” In traditional African society, discussion was at the heart of decision-making; the purpose of of which is to avoid conflict. From East Africa we have the example of the Baraza, and from South Africa, the Indaba, as forums for community discussion.
Today, Daudi thinks that the actions and interests of government officials are opposed to discussion. Yet blogging and online speech has the potential to return discussion to the center of African experience. Daudi proposes that content and community together are what makes interesting online material – another way of saying that it’s the discussion that needs to be emphasized, rather than information in isolation.
Daudi explains that the technological challenges of the digital divide are “overcome by relevance.” As people find a need for particular kinds of information, they seek out the paths to find it.
While these speakers are sharing local and national perspectives, it’s curious to see how each of them describes links into global communities as crucial for their function.
5) Anthony Ian M. Cruz of TXTPower begins by focusing on Filipino mobile phone use. A peripatetic people of 90 million, 70 million use mobile phones. TXTPower uses texting as a tool to mobilize citizens for activism and rights. TXTpower begins by looking at access to mobile use and texting, to ensure that costs remain fair. Anthony describes how in 2004 activism managed to defeat a tax on texting, by running a campaign to text government officials protesting the tax. The mainstream media picked up the story of the campaign, so that it became the biggest story of the week. He describes the use of texting in other campaigns and explains their model of success:
-Fight for consumer welfare and general democracy always be important to people.
-Stay close to the interests of citizens – conveners within TXTPower all have their own networks and local relationships.
-Be media. Work with both legacy media and to gain power and profile itself. Mong Palatino, one of their conveners, as well as the SE Asia editor for Global Voices, recently became a member of parliament.
Drawing a link between these presentations, there’s an common set of issues for TXTPower, Foko, MediaAct, Kenyan bloggers, and the Community Media Alliance. All look to structural and institutional issues to ensure continued online speech and activism, including fair pricing schemes, institutional and structural support for citizen participation in media, and legal protections for citizen media participants.
Emerging from hibernation on posting, twittering, and all things media and social, and hanging out in Los Angeles at Beyond Broadcast 2009. In past years BB has focused mostly on US public media and its relationship to digital media. This year, BB has brought speakers from around the world to provide alternative visions and experiences. We’ll have speakers such as Anthony Ian M. Cruz, of TXTPower, an initiative in the Phillippines that describes itself as “an organization of cellphone users that aims to empower Filipinos both as consumers and as citizens,” Nouneh Sarkissian, of Internews Armenia, who works with independent mass media in Armenia and across the Caucasus, and Daudi Were, a Kenyan blogger who writes at Mentalacrobatics, and others.
This community has in the past few years evolved a dialogue around the language that we use to describe digital media: Citizen media, citizen journalism, participatory journalism. Most here are aware of the traps of ascribing a permanence and value to the verities of professionalism as the height and goal of journalism – rather than journalism’s role as a connecting force within a democracy. This is of course a strongly American debate, and I’ll be especially interested to see what international perspectives bring to the discussion.
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