Internet and Web based Citizen Journalism in Sri Lanka

Background paper to a workshop on Citizen Journalism I’m organising in the near future. Full paper with references as a PDF from here.

Many less radical institutions – governments, NGOs, think tanks – are struggling to address the same challenge, unable to respond to the rapidly shifting balance of power between the individual and the institution radically disrupted by the Internet. In today’s ultra-networked world, an unaffiliated individual with a laptop and an Internet connection is often more influential and resourceful than an organization with a staff of twenty and a fax machine was only twenty years ago.

– Evgeny Morozov on openDemocracy.net

Introduction

The overarching problems of a State riven by violent conflict, corruption, nepotism and the significant breakdown of democratic governance and human rights, especially in recent years, deeply inform the timbre of traditional media. It is a vicious symbiosis – traditional media is both shaped by and shapes a violent public imagination. The potential of Web 2.0 and new media in general and citizen journalism, mobile phones and USG in particular (e.g. YouTube videos, blogs, SMS and mobile sites) suggests that content that critiques the status quo, authored by civil society, can play a constructive and increasingly significant role in peacebuilding and stronger democratic governance in Sri Lanka. The renowned Columbia Journalism Review has an interesting short article on the power of citizen journalism even under repressive regimes. Blogging the Coup by Dustin Roasa notes,

The debate over citizen journalism in the U.S. tends to dwell, tediously, on whether citizen reporters can supplant, rather than complement, the professional press. But in many countries around the world, where the press is under government control, corrupt, or simply incompetent, citizen journalists may be the only source of information that is reasonably credible. Without citizen reporters in Myanmar, for instance, it would have been impossible to know what was happening during anti-government demonstrations last year, while in the Middle East, bloggers have become a viable alternative to the heavily censored, state-run media.

Citizen journalism on the web and Internet is seen in this short paper as a way through which all peoples of Sri Lanka, with something as basic as ownership of or access to a mobile phone, can hold to account the violence practiced by the Rajapakse regime, the LTTE, the TMVP and other armed groups in the country who policies and practices are inimical to democracy. Put simply, citizen journalism aims to be as much as a annoyance to them as they are to democratic governance. There are well over 300 blogs in English, Sinhala and Tamil now aggregated on www.kottu.org, Sri Lanka’s largest blog aggregation site. There is already a growing culture of vibrant debate on issues linked to governance, human rights, war and peace on the blogosphere that rivals the qualitative reportage in mainstream media (MSM). New voices on blogs like Dinidu de Alwis and Indi Samarajiva are speaking with a new voice, appealing to new audiences and capturing malleable minds of youth more familiar with web media than traditional print and electronic journalism.

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