Senior academics commend citizen journalism in Sri Lanka

The unique Special Edition Groundviews ran a year after the end of war in Sri Lanka was recently critically acclaimed recently by Prof. Sasanka Perera from the University of Colombo.

Fire and Storm: Essays in Sri Lankan Politics is the latest book by Prof. Michael Roberts. Michael was trained in history and the social sciences at Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka. Read a fuller description of the author on his blog and watch a recent interview, produced for broadcast TV and featured on Groundviews here.

Referring to the bloody end of war in Sri Lanka, when original content and debates on Groundviews interrogated stark ground and political realities, Michael has this to say of the site and citizen journalism in Sri Lanka in the introduction to the tome:

“It is to the credit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives website, Groundviews…. that it raised this Catch-22 situation in full-frontal style on 3 May 2009: “would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?” When, predictably, this question was misunderstood, the Groundviews editors clarified the issue thus: “This post intends to interrogate extremism. The numbers in the quote are really peripheral to the argument, which exists today, that to finish off the LTTE, collateral damager is not just unavoidable, it is even a prerequisite. What do you feel about that?” It is to the credit of some measured voices who spoke up at this point, among them several Tamils (with pseudonyms, but speaking as Tamils), insisting that the defeat of the LTTE was a vital goal and that “we” should be ready to accept civilian casualties of even 50,000, though hopefully somewhat less. This debate, suitably edited, is worth reproduction in print as an outstanding example of citizen debate and citizen journalism that beats the Sri Lankan newspapers by a proverbial mile.

Emphasis mine. The post in question can be read in full here.

Prof. Roberts and Prof. Perera flag something interesting over 2009 and 2010. For the first time in Sri Lanka’s media history, the most engaging content interrogating key political and social issues was produced or published not by mainstream media, but by citizen journalism, notably voices featured on Groundviews as well as the site’s own original reporting.

Since 2006, Groundviews has published content mainstream media has been unwilling or unable to cover, guided by a set of content curation, discussion and comment moderation guidelines unique to online media in Sri Lanka, from the time of the site’s inception to date. I know of no other site in Sri Lanka, both during war and after it, that features a similar and sustained level of content (from prose and poetry to satire and photography) and reader generated debate interrogating war, human rights, politics, corruption, peace and other key issues. The International Federation of Journalism (IFJ) agree. A short excerpt from their most recent report reads,

“The citizen journalism website Groundviews (www. did some of the most telling early reporting on the conditions within the IDP camps, alerting national and international opinion to the growing conditions of squalor and distress following heavy rains in August and then October 2009. The website’s reporting was accompanied by a poignant commentary on the level of concern of the mainstream media in the situation in the camps.”

It’s an exciting time to be a citizen journalist in Sri Lanka.

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