Hometown Baghdad and a similar idea for Sri Lanka

It’s not the first time that I’ve written here on the power of video to transform conflict, facilitate reconciliation and highlight insights and facets to war not often covered by traditional media. I guess the most well known of exercises in recent times was by Kevin Sikes and his compelling work with Yahoo to document life in conflict zones. There is also the example of Videoletters, the website of which sadly does not exist anymore (another write up of the erstwhile initiative can be found here). The WITNESS Video Hub is yet another example. And in Sri Lanka, I’ve pioneered the Vikalpa Video Channel, that’s already got tens of thousands of views.

Its in this vein that I was happy to come across, admittedly rather late in the day, Hometown Baghdad that is an “online web series about life in Baghdad. It tells the stories of three young Iraqis struggling to survive during the war”.

The videos, all online but not downloadable, are really interesting to watch – even though on my ADSL connection, they were really choppy. As noted in the Guardian review of the initiative and the videos:

In contrast to mainstream media reports, the short clips – a mixture of home-made diaries and professionally- shot footage – offer viewers an alternative Iraqi reality, as the trio confront the everyday challenges posed by living in Baghdad amid spiralling sectarian violence last summer.

Sadly, the three key voices from the ground are all male – it would have been interesting to see what a female, of a similar age and middle-class background, would have brought to the commentary and perspectives offered by the videos.

An idea for Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Dialog was the first to create a mobile phone based video competition.


While extremely commendable for raising the awareness of the potential for user generated content through mobiles in Sri Lanka (and some neat guidelines), the content generated by this competition would have been largely limited to an English speaking audience, if only to first comprehend understand the legal argot of the Rules and Regulations published only in English.

Here’s the challenge. No corporate entity is going to be interested in a competition that strengthens the type of content Hometown Baghdad is about or even what Vikalpa Video today generates. There are media houses in Sri Lanka that do some interesting terrestrial broadcasts in a similar vein, but their impact is minimal at best. Further, as I’ve noted earlier, the problem with these productions is that they are hidden – once broadcast, there is no way to access them.

Which agency I wonder, and here I’m thinking perhaps of the marketing and advertising community, can step up to a competition on vital and challenging issues such as corruption, human rights, language rights and local government that asks citizens to record through their mobiles phones what they experience? A combination of SMS, MMS and mobile video could be used, with web, mobile and print media used and in all three languages.

We need to emphasise the good as well as the bad, so the competition could be in two parts or have two prizes – one for the best video that highlights an aspect of say governance that actually works (and there are hugely under-recognised public servants out there committed to public service), the other for weak or failed governance mechanisms.

If anyone is up to the task, call me!

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