“Is Citizen Journalism the savior of the free press? Discuss the opportunities and challenges raised by this new form of media, production with reference to specific examples.”

 

Citizen journalism- “Grassroots journalism is a part of citizen-generated media- of a global conversation that is growing in strength, complexity and power” (Gillmor, 2006)        

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“Citizen Journalism refers to a range of web-based practices whereby ‘ordinary’ users engage in journalistic practices. Citizen Journalism includes practices such as current affairs-based blogging, photo and video sharing, and post eyewitness commentary on current events” (Goode, 2009)

Throughout this essay, I will give an impartial viewpoint of whether citizen journalism is truly the savior of the free press. I will achieve this by conducting an in-depth analysis of the concept of citizen journalism and the opportunities and challenges that are created in contrast to traditional journalism. Citizen journalism has been a working force towards diminishing the role of traditional journalism and dispersal and the ability to share information simultaneously globally. Within this essay, I will discuss the opportunities and challenges that citizen journalism brings by focusing on a particular case which benefitted from citizen journalism and caused a political and social movement in Afghanistan.

A case that took place in Afghanistan incited a form of moral panic around the world for Afghans and all ethnicities. Farkhunda Malikzada a 27-year-old volunteer teacher. Who had the aspirations of one day becoming a judge was brutally murdered by a mob of Afghans who claimed that she was an ‘American’ who burnt the Islamic holy book (Quran). Throughout this ordeal, Farkhunda was recorded being beaten and dragged by a car up until she was burnt alive in the capital city of Kabul.

The release of this information became the topic of discussion and marches in Afghanistan which ensued an outcry from women and men who objected the barbaric and ‘traditional’ mannerism of the Afghans. In correlation to this, the Afghans around the world and within the country created a hashtag(justiceforfarkhunda) which became widely used to make the injustice that was inflicted upon Farkhunda known to the world and to bring her justice by the judicial system in Afghanistan. (Ramos, 2015)

Due to the rise of the new form of media, which is referred to as citizen journalism has created an opportunity for the public to converge with sources of information and bring forward an unbiased conclusion to cases. Free press allowed individuals to post content that the government may refuse to share.

The factual evidence provided by the public due to the recordings and the images that were taken of Farkhunda certainly helped build the case for Farkhunda’s benefit. As the judges and people were able to see the perpetrators of the case inflicting harm. In this aspect Citizen Journalism allowed the case to be looked into from different perspectives as there were several different people giving their account of the same case through recording and sharing the video and images whilst strengthening the argument of who was right and who was wrong. According to an American political commentator, editor, columnist and political advisor John D. Lofton Jr the influence of the public on criminal cases and the law enforcement is apparent. As the public are able to impact the “opening of a criminal case to its final disposition” (Lofton, 1966). This suggests that the individual autonomy of citizen journalism benefits the public as criminal cases are pushed sought after, even after the closure of cases. Information and pieces of evidence may be found by the public due to the fact that information is so easily accessible on the web.

In addition due to the case garnering global interest, the government of Afghanistan after initially not paying much attention towards the outright injustice that was apparent to the world. Were forced to take legal action towards the individuals who took a part in the act of killing Farkhunda. This created a political movement with the help of Citizen Journalism. As people held strikes and marches in the streets of Kabul with their faces painted with the colour red, to resemble Farkhunda’s struggles as she bled throughout the ordeal. This was accounted as one of the largest women’s protests in the history of Afghanistan. (Kargar, 2015) The people specifically women of Afghanistan became aware of the lack of human rights that were put in place for Women. In a speech given by conservative politician and Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Baroness Anelay’s speech regarding women rights specifically in Afghanistan and the development of services to help Afghan women. Anelay’s also specifies the depravity of human rights for women in comparison to men. She also includes that the government of Afghanistan hired female officials and encouraged more women to work and study. The case of Farkhunda Malikzada was included in her speech. (Anelay, 2016) This indicates that widespread attention that was drawn through citizen journalism was successful as the UK helped Afghanistan to raise awareness for the lack of human rights.

Furthermore, cases in Afghanistan concerning women tend to be overlooked as Afghanistan government is entwined with the sharia law. The constituencies and government of Afghanistan lack in human’s rights act for women. According to Meghan Campbell and Geoffry Swenson in post-conflict countries, fair institutions have been “shattered”. Thus, women rights are based on the faith of the country. (Meghan Campbell, 2016).   This suggests that Afghanistan has been one of the least developed countries and the ideology and social construction of women are incredibly derogatory. However, the death of Farkhunda caused the largest protest for women in the history of Afghanistan. The failure of police and several officials’ inability to protect Farkhunda caused many to be expelled from their jobs. This created a political standing point as it showed the people of Afghanistan that the officials and people who stand for injustice and commit such heinous crimes will not be left without any consequences. In this aspect, the concept of the free press is a significant form of evidence and a way for people to stand against the government when a human right is being violated.

The women of Afghanistan took a major step towards freedom and unbinding the traditional extremist values men held towards women. Due to the fact that the attack was carried out by a mob of men. Afghan women did not allow any men to touch the casket of Farkhunda as a form of resistance, as men are the ones who normally hold the casket due to traditions. Chants and slogans were made saying ‘I am Farkhunda’. Hashtags on Twitter, Instagram Facebook and many more ‘#justiceforfarkhunda’. This created a domino effect as trust funds (Anon., 2016) and women organisations were built to support women to gain education and basic necessities.

As a whole, the death of Farkhunda was a day that created a revolutionary protest against injustice. Women and men for the very first time in a long time reunited in the streets of Kabul to rise against the brutality and unfairness all Afghan women face on a daily basis. According to Anthropologist Julie Billaud women in Afghanistan, women are classed as second-class citizens. They are viewed as the “second sex” (Billaud, 2015) in politics and the culture as a whole. There is an unequal dynamic between the interactions of women and men and most women in the parliament tend to be cross-dressers (bacha posh) to as it gives them the social power to work and go outside without a male companion. Afghanistan known as the graveyard of empires has been through the economics of the country and social difficulties, the unsettling feeling of the unknown makes women who have seen as the weaker sex the subject to violence. The country itself is so patriarchal that the Kabul family court doesn’t “pronounce divorce unless men initiated it.” (Billaud, 2015) Citizen Journalism has allowed countries plagued with violence and hostility to be broadcasted and affect the decisions and actions of political powers around the world.

In contrast, the videos and pictures couldn’t convince everyone as people were still suspicious of whether Farkhunda was a spy. Despite the clear evidence provided people were bound by the customs and the paranoia of westernisers having the capability to manipulate Muslims to eradicate Islam. Despite the immense amount of global attention and media coverage. Due to the demographics and Afghanistan being one of the most volatile countries in the world it’s been normalised for people globally to accept the injustice. Especially the people in Afghanistan see this as something that happens and there is nothing they can do to regain any sort of control. For example afghan women self-mutilate as a form of resistance towards the customs and norms of getting arranged married and in order to persuade their parents and relatives to allow them to marry the person they are in love with(book).this is a basic human right any countries leaning towards the west as people are given the choice to choose  in comparison to the situation taking place in the west as the west are  more advanced in regards to freedom of speech and human rights act being enforced. In this regards citizen journalism may not be as favourable due to religions and the customs that the country may hold.

 Additionally, according to James Curran, the ‘independent producers’ of this form of new media has allowed forming of neutrality towards political parties. As most newspapers are biased depending on the political party they support. (James Curran, 2000) The information that is shared is a way to balance out the journalism and include new information and perspectives. As some information may not be shared by popular news channels and papers as it would be work against the political parties the media organisations.

Furthermore, Citizen Journalism although it has had a massive impact on media coverage the government of Afghanistan and around the world, the power is given to certain news channels which can propagandize against or for the events that take place which can impact the perception of people towards the injustice that takes place. Also, the information can be withheld or fabricated in order to prevent controversy. For example the case of George bush’s darker side, the fact he participated in Nazi and communist regimes and many more.The public was unaware of his background due to the bias towards him in the news. (Allan, 2005) Traditional journalism is still known as the original or the more professional and trustworthy source. Therefore, people may be manipulated to believe bigger organisations who control and hold more power than normal civilians. In the case of Farkhunda although the new form of media was an immense help in order to share the information and make people aware. The protests and global outrage have not significantly influenced the treatment of women in Afghanistan. Although the ability for people to share the information without any censorship or hindrances from the government interfering and people having the ability to be producers (theorist) themselves. It makes the source more unreliable and biased as it the content is not filmed by bigger organisations. The information that is encoded can be misinterpreted by the audience which can cause confusion as there is less clarity of whether the content is authentic or not.

The ‘producers’ of the footage of Farkhunda although they were able to capture the attack and circulate it worldwide. They recorded without aiding her, which suggests that people are more interested in the extremity of the content rather than helping another civilian. According to author and journalist, Barbie Zalter images captured and shared are manipulated and altered to fit the agenda of certain cases. She mentions whether the images hold any truth. (Barbie Zelizer, 2005) Citizen journalism is in some ways encouraging people to record the content when in actuality there is a chance the person in danger can be saved rather than recorded.

Moreover, the concept of citizen journalism violates several human rights. Grassroots journalism has the expectation for the government to give them permission to share some content that may potentially harm another individual’s career, social status and life. As citizen journalism can be used as a way to portray someone as the antagonist if the video is captured at the wrong time. For example, for Farkhunda’s case, the majority of people who recorded did it for the purpose to expose her as a traitor. Although she was the victim of the whole situation. Without further investigation, her case would’ve been dismissed. People can be easily misled into believing information that may be entirely false or news that has very little substance with the cost of someone’s reputation which can be classified as defamation. Anyone can share information that they may have found and this is a great risk as the youth may believe content that may alter their perception of certain events and the concept of media. Thus free press may be preferential for parents. Alas, citizen journalism can bring new challenges due to the active audiences who share and upload data within a millisecond to their 1000 followers. This can leave a negative impact because the severity of sharing information globally. Is that anyone can gain access and save information on hard drives and use the information shared with an intent malice. For example, contact details and house information can be shared with individuals with mental disorders which can jeopardise someone’s life.

In conclusion Citizen, Journalism is the saviour of the free press in several aspects. Citing Karol Jakubowics “the mass media are today the most powerful element of the public sphere”. (Spark, 1991) Karol argued that the theory of public sphere created by German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas is a subjective theory as it does not affect every country and media outlets. Citizen Journalism is an essential feature of the public sphere which allows citizens to debate and share ideas however it may not apply to every country specifically to a less established country like Afghanistan so the concept of the free press is not taken as seriously as countries with advanced technologies.  However, Citizen Journalism is an essential tool for the public sphere as it allows the public to broaden their horizon further in regards to data and information. According to Janet Jones and Lee Salter “The internet has afforded an unrivalled opportunity for people to communicate, report and distribute information, bypassing traditional routes”. (Salter, 2012) Citizen journalism is the savior of the free press as it encourages people to distribute and share information globally and to fight for the free press. Citizen Journalism allows people to post content that the government wish to hide from the public. Citizen journalism encourages true democracy.

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