Vikalpa Video in the YouTube Reporters Top 100 for coverage of 1983 anti-Tamil riots

Screenshot taken at 9.15am, 30th July 2008 (+5.30GMT)

The Vikalpa Video Channel made it to the top 100 most viewed channels on the YouTube Reporters category this week. The interest in and traffic to the site was largely generated by over 30 short videos on July ’83 available here.

To put this significant achievement in perspective, the global media giant Voice of America’s YouTube channel generated 2,452 views to date on the YouTube Reporters category. CPA’s Vikalpa Channel has generated 2,377 at the time of writing.

This is the second time the channel has made to the top 100 list. The first was in December ’07.

Screenshot taken from here at 9.25am, 30th July 2008 (+5.30GMT)

Writing on Sri Lanka’s growing abductions, Burning Bridge noted recently that a video produced by Human Rights Watch on this disturbing issue had (at the time) only been viewed less than 2,000 times. Of the many possible reasons for this, one striking feature of many human rights / humanitarian advocacy in Sri Lanka is how little they leverage new media, social networking and well established (web) content management platforms for video like YouTube.

We’ve got well over 104,000 views to date and over 2,300 this past week alone for our videos, that are largely in Sinhala and Tamil and also feature notable figures from polity and civil society speaking in English such as TNA MP R. Sampanthan, Tamil Human Rights Activist Shanthi Satchithananthan and Convener of the Civil Monitoring Committee Mano Ganesan

I just need to find the time to sit down and write about the lessons learnt and identified as well as the technical and content generation and dissemination strategies adopted by us to make the channel what it is today and to take it forward in the midst of and as a response to the incredibly violent and difficult context for independent media in Sri Lanka.

Mobile phone based citizen journalism videos on YouTube viewed over 104,000 times

YouTube Video

Inspired by a post on Burning Bridge to do a count of the number of times all the videos on the Vikalpa YouTube channel had been viewed, I was pleased to note that the videos had been collectively viewed over 104,000 times to date. The channel itself has been viewed over 5,000 times. 

Writing in October 2007 I said,

Coupled with VOR Radio, we want to explore ways through which digital media and mobile devices such as the N-series Nokia phones with their built in mobile blogging, multimedia, wireless and video editing features can be used to strengthen the voice of citizens in support of democratic governance, human rights and peace.

We’ve come a long way in the space of a few months. Featuring senior political figures, trade unionists and media rights activists, school and university students, IDPs and refugees, Members of Parliament, award winning human rights defenders and peace activists, rarely heard voices from Jaffna on ground conditions in the embattled region and exclusive footage of significant socio-political events, the channel features nearly 200 short videos in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Currently featured on the channel is a professional English production on the life of Nadarajah Raviraj, a prominent human rights activist and Tamil politician assassinated in Colombo in 2006.

Nearly all videos have been filmed using a Nokia N93i camera phone to raise awareness on the potential of mobiles to strengthen democracy and bear witness to abuses of power, human rights violations and violence. 

We generated interest from / have been featured on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), France24’s Observers initiative, Global Voices Online and Witness, the source of my inspiration for starting this initiative in Sri Lanka (though the videos are shot, edited and produced by a talented and brave colleague).

Citizen News now on YouTube

YouTube, as promised earlier, has launched a new content creation category called Citizen Reporters. This is now what Vikalpa YouTube Video publishes under, as Sri Lanka’s first and only mobile phone based video CJ initiative

While you are at it, check out the comments in response to the announcement video here. Very revealing. 

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!

IPS story on New Media in Sri Lanka – A first attempt to grasp new media agenda setting in Sri Lanka

Amantha Perera, with whom I spoke to on the phone around a fortnight ago on Groundviews, ran with a story on new media and its impact on shaping the news agenda in Sri Lanka on IPS today. Titled MEDIA-SRI LANKA: New Media – First With Reports On Intensifying War the story is a explores the growth and impact of JasmineNewswires (JNW), Lanka E News and Groundviews in particular.

It’s not a particularly well written or researched article, typical of so many other traditional media journalists attempting to grasp the pitfalls and potential of new media and and the gamut of technologies supporting it, but it’s a valuable first take on the nascent new media news and information services in Sri Lanka by a respected wire news agency.


I’ve reviewed and written on JNW more than once on this site and was involved in some discussions with its founder, Chamath Ariyadasa, on expanding and strengthening its services further into areas that I felt it had potential to make far more of an impact than what it has to date through just SMS based news and information dissemination. Chamath seems to have settled on SMS news services through various mobile operators, with sadly no real interest in pursuing ways through which the service, that I am a subscriber of and love, can be made more meaningful, interactive and pervasive. As I noted here:

JNW, in trying to be all things to everyone (which may have worked as a new startup) will soon begin to frustrate its subscribers with an overload of information that is mass produced and sent to everyone, with no real emphasis on the sectors they each work in.

Lanka E News

Lanka E News, that was recently raided by the Police, is a daily staple for me. I found what it’s founder had to say interesting:

Lankaenews has carved a niche among the upstart websites due to its quick news gathering and dissemination in Sinhala (Sri Lanka’s main language together with Tamil). “I think the fact the we operate in Sinhala opened up a huge untapped audience, the Sinhala-speaking internet users who don’t have a high proficiency in English,” Lankaenews founder, Sadaruwan Seenadira, told IPS.

He told IPS that his site gets about 100,000 visits every day, a third of these are regulars. “What made the news website workable was that we developed an HTML based Sinhala font,” Seenadira said.

From the response to Vikalpa and Vikalpa Video, I can confirm that the thirst for critical analysis and commentary that questions the status quo is growing apace on the web. Lanka E News and Vikalpa however diverge in their use of fonts on the web.

Vikalpa (and Groundviews before it) took a conscious decision to go with UNICODE fonts for Sinhala and Tamil. Lanka E News took another route and developed fonts of its own. The difference is that content on Vikalpa even in Sinhala and Tamil is searchable through Google, whereas content on Lanka E News (such as its archives) is simply not indexed on Google or any other search engine. UNICODE is tough – the keyboard is irascibly different, some of the characters don’t display accurately and it doesn’t work on Macs. Our decision was based on the fact that a couple of years down the line, UNICODE’s flaws would have been sorted out. It was important to us that the content we published on our sites today would be immediately and easily accessible even a few years down the line.

Sadaruwan’s statistics for the site clearly demonstrate the interest in vernacular content that mirrors the growing figures for Vikalpa as well. However, Amantha could have explained more clearly as to what “100,000 visits” a day really means.

100,000 hits is meaningless. 100,000 page views is incredible.

Vikalpa gets around 300 page views a day, a far more useful and honest metric of a site’s real readership. Groundviews stats, as of December 2007, are available here.

Email to IPS and Amantha

In an email to Amantha and IPS penned earlier today, I noted inter alia that,

… the point about stories on IDPs I made explicitly over the phone was not just that they appear more frequently on the site when compared to traditional (newsprint) media, but that they are WRITTEN and/or PRODUCED by IDPs themselves and published on the site after being translated to English. Such stories are the raison d’etre of citizen journalism and what differentiates it from occasional stories by journalists on the same issues / peoples in traditional media. The site is replete with such stories. For example:

‘I want a decent Education’ – A twelve year old’s plea

The divide between Muslims and Tamils: Perspective of an IDP

It is also the case that Groundviews, more than any other newspaper I know (web + print) has published first-hand investigative reports on the situation the embattled East and North of the country. For example, two recent and complementary narratives on the situation in the East are:

“Liberated”- A Personal Account Of Batticaloa And Ampara


I ended by saying that “… Groundviews in particular, which along with Vikalpa and Vikalpa Video are sui generis in Sri Lanka in the manner they introduced, promoted and raised the awareness of citizen journalism and a news agenda markedly more compelling and free than what traditional media offers today.”