Shooting in public – Citizen journalism under threat in Sri Lanka

In recent months, pedestrians who filmed public bomb attacks on their mobile phones have been confronted by the police. One citizen who passed on such footage to an independent TV channel was later vilified as a ‘traitor’. Overly suspicious (or jealous?) neighbours called the police about a friend who was running his video editing business from home in suburban Colombo.None of these individuals had broken any known law. Yet each one had to protest their innocence.

It may not be illegal, but it sure has become difficult and hazardous to use a camera in public in Sri Lanka today. Forget political demonstrations or bomb attacks that attract media attention. Covering even the most innocuous, mundane aspects of daily life can be misconstrued as a ’security threat’.

Nalaka Gunawardene writes to Groundviews on the emerging threats facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka in an article titled Endangered: Our right to ’shoot’ in public

As Nalaka points out in his article, even liberal democracies such as the US have also tried to clamp down on User Generated Content (USG). As I’ve noted on this blog, while France24′s citizen journalism initiatives are commendable, they largely ignore the fact that France has clamped down on citizen journalism as well.

The problem facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka is the vigilante justice in the form of Civil Defence Committees that have sprung up all over the country. As the Free Media Movement (FMM) in an open letter to the Inspector General of Police notes in relation to two recent cases involved accredited journalists:

We firmly assert that journalists and media workers have a right to gather and disseminate information in the public interest. Any means that directly or inadvertently curtails the rights journalists is tantamount to censorship. We believe the duty of the Police is to protect these rights that are the foundation of democracy. Sadly, in the both cases noted above, the actions of the Police were inimical to their role as defenders of rule of law, giving in as they did to the arbitrary actions of essentially over enthusiastic vigilantes.

If the situation is incredibly bad (and deteriorating further to boot) for journalists today, Nalaka’s understates the challenges facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka today when he avers that:

It may not be illegal, but it sure has become difficult and hazardous to use a camera in public in Sri Lanka today. Forget political demonstrations or bomb attacks that attract media attention. Covering even the most innocuous, mundane aspects of daily life can be misconstrued as a ’security threat’.

Read his article in full here. The chapter on Citizen Journalism I wrote for Communicating Disasters, that Nalaka quotes from in his article, can be read in full here.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blogs and media censorship - Iran and Sri Lanka « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - April 8, 2008

    [...] Shooting in public – Citizen journalism under threat in Sri Lanka [...]

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