Citizens + Media: Amplifying voices for peace through citizen journalism

Speaking notes of a recent workshop for provincial journalists and human rights activists in which I had to speak on Citizen Journalism in Sri Lanka. Follows the thoughts in my submission to Madrid11 on the importance of citizen journalism in peacebuilding.

  • The responsibility of citizens in securing peace goes hand in hand with the privileges of citizenship – this is the fundamental basis of democracy
  • To reverse the current democratic deficit in Sri Lanka, citizens need to engage more with all media – mainstream, alternative, print, electronic, web
  • Increasing violence results in ever narrowing viewpoints and opinions in mainstream media, restrictions on civil society activities, and anxiety & fear amongst advocates of peace
  • Citizens in favour of peace, justice and democracy need to expand and strengthen their voices in an hostile environment
  • This is not always possible using mainstream media – mainstream media itself is resistant to change, has its own bias, is driven by market economics (what bleeds leads) and has failed, to date, to adopt public service journalism values
  • Journalists are also under threat – free media is disappearing, along with democratic dissent and alternative viewpoints to those in power and in government
  • Citizen journalism – journalism of the people, by the people, for the people – is a new way forward
  • Citizen journalism does not aim to, and cannot replace, mainstream media
  • Committed Civil Society activists and ordinary citizens can now use new ways of getting their voices heard, facilitated through the web & internet, and the increasing use of PCs and mobile phones
  • Citizen journalism, also known as “participatory journalism,” is the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information,” according to the seminal report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information . As is noted in this report “The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.”
  • The resulting content is not usually that which mainstream media focuses on, and explores ground conditions, issues of corruption, human rights violations, ceasefire violations, humanitarian concerns and issues related to peace and democracy through perspectives one would not have otherwise seen, heard or read.
  • Explicit in CJ is the acceptance that, for development to be equitable, effective and sustainable, people, including the poorest communities, must have the means not only to be informed, but also to express their views and to influence public action.
  • Democracy today in Sri Lanka is receding – mob rule is increasing. CJ can help positively transform, even in the middle of a hostile environment, the qualitative nature of interaction with issues, actors and factors in a peace process
  • Citizens are the new journalists. They are not trained. They are not professional. They are biased. They are provincial.


  • They are powerful. They are everywhere. They have access to the technology. They are passionate. They bear witness. They have stories, personal and local, that impact of issues national and global.
  • Citizens are those who bear the brunt of violence, corruption, nepotism, bad governance and discrimination. Since government is accountable to citizens, their voices, when amplified and distributed amongst a larger constituency, fuels social and political change
  • Mainstream media, through public service values, can help in this effort
  • But citizen journalism is NOT public service journalism. Citizen journalism is about citizens writing on what impacts their lives, and how they perceive the world around them. No journalists mediate this communication.
  • Accordingly, some account may be bad. Others may be good. A few maybe those better than a Pulitzer Prize winning journalists’ article. This is to be expected.
  • The more people write and produce, the more voices can be heard. The more voices that are present, the more the voices will moderate themselves – with those that are engaging and in support of peace overwhelming those not in favour of changing the status quo.
  • This is, in essence, democracy – it is democratising the media by opening it up.
  • This is a revolution that in other countries have changed regimes, exposed corruption, resulted in changes in bureaucracy, governance and held those who commit HR violations accountable to the law.
  • In short, this is not just a technological determinism or utopian dream. CJ has changed the way in which citizens interact with government in other countries.
  • Today’s presentations explore how we can do the same in Sri Lanka.
  • We need to be prepared.
  • It is not a question of if, but when, we all have access to the web and internet. Today, all of us have mobile phones. Many of us have PC, or access to a PC. Tomorrow, these numbers will increase.
  • Our challenge, for federalism and better governance, is to use these development in infrastructure to create content, for a new generation and for a wider audience, using new media
  • Citizen journalism is at the forefront of this revolution. You are the first ambassadors of this new media culture – you are Sri Lanka’s first potential citizen journalists
  • Today you will learn about how you can make a difference using citizen journalism, even when the world around us seems difficult to change.
  • Sure, there are challenges – but I am confident that through your dedication and commitment, and the new & innovative ways we can communicate that are emerging, we can shape the hearts and minds of future generations to support our vision and work of a better & peaceful Sri Lanka.
  • This is our shared challenge. And I am sure that citizen journalism will play a vital role in it.

4 thoughts on “Citizens + Media: Amplifying voices for peace through citizen journalism

  1. Sanjana,

    Well said, as always. I agree with everything you say, but find it a bit strange that you use the categorisation of ‘provincial journalist’ in the Sri Lankan context. As we both know, all of Sri Lanka’s media are concentrated in two districts, Colombo (which has 90% of all media organisations) and Jaffna (the rest, which the government and military are doing their best to snuff out). Every journalist and producer, irrespective of residential location and geographical area of coverage, has to find expression through a media outlet controlled from one of these two centres.

    Contrast this with countries like India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh which have multiple centres of media production and distribution, and thus the term provincial journalist has proper meaning there.

    Just a thought. Keep up the good work.

    – Nalaka Gee

  2. Hi Nalaka,

    One can argue that the Government is doing its best to snuff out certain media in Colombo as well!

    Point taken – what I refer to as provincial journalists refer in particular to their location as working journalists resident out of urban centres such as Jaffna and Colombo. The fact that today they have to find expression and indeed, income, through either one of two urban centres is precisely what I hope will change in the years to come, and what I hope that at least in a small way, new media can help foment and support.


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