France24 and Citizen Journalists around the world collaborate in “The Observers”

France24’s beta initiative called The Observers follows in the vein of CNN’s iReport to give prominence to and ostensibly strengthen the station’s own reporting perspectives from citizen journalism content around the world.

Though there’s nothing on Sri Lanka at the moment, the content already on the site examines alternative and interesting perspectives on the recent Algerian bombing, Human Rights violations in Egypt and Russia’s recent “elections”.

One problem of the website as it stands is that videos / content on it are a mix of streaming Windows Media, Quicktime and Flash. Getting all videos to the Flash platform would be useful for device and platform independence. My other chief problem is that the content is only in English, which I suppose one cannot get away from given that France24 caters to an audience that’s primarily English speaking. CJ content however is produced more and more in non-English languages and as initiatives like Sri Lanka’s Vikalpa YouTube channel (disclosure – I am part of the initiative) and The Human Rights Hub by Witness demonstrate, there’s compelling and damning content from citizens available that seriously questions the bona fides of government’s and others in power.

What is interesting and encouraging to note is the emphasis France24 places on verifiable CJ content. One of the arguments most commonly against CJ is that it is parochial and even more blinkered than traditional electronic / print media and that by extension, one needs to be more skeptical of this content than what’s produced and broadcast by the likes of France24, BBC and CNN. While it’s an argument that has some merit, it’s often the case that CJ produces content by witnesses present at incidents and prcesses journalists simply aren’t or don’t have access to. Sifting the really good content from the junk is a daunting task and one that I hope France24 succeeds in. Read more about how they intend to do this here.

With more and more CJ content making it to traditional and web based mainstream media websites, we can expect that in 5 – 10 years, CJ as we know and identify it today will be seamlessly part of media reporting. Traditional / trained journalists will play the role they always have – to present multiple truths in an impartial, accurate and responsible manner. I would argue that trained journalists will have to be even more careful in how they select and present the news and that the real test in the future is actually an old challenge – to be skeptical, but not equally so, of processes and events on the ground and how they are seen, interpreted and reported.

The Internet and its impact on (France24’s) journalism is an interesting video that delves more deeply in The Observers initiative.

What the entire site and the videos above DON’T address are France’s own restrictions on CJ content. Clearly, the challenges to bearing witness are to be found much closer to home than in Iran or China!

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