New Media and Human Rights

WITNESS

GlobalVoicesOnline and WITNESS have launched Human Rights video hub pilot. WITNESS has been successful in bearing witness to and bringing to attention HR abuses in the regions it has a footprint, including Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the former Soviet Union. As this website notes:

Rooted in the power of personal testimonies and in the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words, the videos of WITNESS and its partners have been used

* as evidence in legal proceedings;
* to stimulate grassroots education and mobilization;
* to provide information for news broadcasts;
* to promote human rights via the internet; and
* to produce documentaries for broadcast on television worldwide.

The launch of their new website, featuring content from mobile phone based video cameras, is commendable and a welcome development that leverages the ubiquity of multimedia capable mobile devices in many places around the world, even where the use of PC’s and digital video equipment have yet to take root. However, with the problems of access and the throttling of connectivity in many conflict zones, it is a challenge to enable citizens with access to devices that help them bear witness get the resulting content out onto to the web and in the public gaze.

The importance of developing a human rights perspective in citizens journalism particularly in conflict / post-conflict regions cannot be underestimated. WITNESS is heavily reliant on YouTube, Time’s Invention of the Year for 2006. In this respect, WITNESS may have to re-write sections of its Video for Change handbook, which deals with the modes of production linked to DV cameras, and needs to look at the unique opportunities and challenges for shooting video through mobile phones.

Shooting in dalylight, the quality of my Samsung SGH-X820 phone is more than adequate to record video that isn’t too grainy or pixellated. As such devices proliferate, WITNESS is uniquely positioned to use YouTube’s video services to flag content that points to HR abuses. It thereby creates a permanent archive of such abuses to remind governments and other parties responsible for them that though the web may not be able to prevent such abuses from occurring, by placing them on record in a manner that cannot be erased by censorship or vandalism, the web can re-define HR activism in the future and help even the remotest HR abuses being placed before a global jury.

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