Mind your Media: ‘Citizen journalists should tap into what media overlooks’
KARACHI: News media often overlooks topics that the public feels need coverage – sometimes it turns a blind eye and sometimes it is sheer laziness. This is where social bloggers and citizen journalists come in.
They don’t only hold the insight to share personal stories but also the power to mobilise the media, government and other citizens to stand up for a cause or at the very least, take notice. These were some of the points touched upon by investigative journalist Stephen Franklin at a session of Mind your Media, an initiative of the Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism and PeaceNiche, held on Sunday.
“Around 20,000 people blogged about an Egyptian blogger who was beaten to death by the police in Cairo, which eventually led the government to take action again the guilty officers – that’s the power of social blogging,” said Franklin to an audience of students and journalists. “It allows people to sometimes share stories that the media can’t. Blogs serve as a global diary that can be accessed by all and in today’s world of misunderstandings, we need to learn from and about each other.”
According to the former correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, citizen journalists have to strive to try and tell the truth. “If there is something missing in the newspapers that you want reported from Karachi, write about it with as much evidence as you can gather.”
The bigger picture
“We often hear that blogging is the new nirvana and that we don’t need investigative journalism anymore. Then there are those who shun media altogether. Others prefer getting their news from social media websites – what role does the news media play then?” asked Franklin, while quickly answering: “It gives us the bigger picture. Investigative journalism puts it all together and provides people context. The Pakistani media should be able to explain the world to you along with what is happening in your lives.”
A member of the audience asked who we should ask for the truth when journalists were being paid by the government and the agencies. Franklin replied with the word ‘umeed’. “There is always hope. Use your intuition and approach other bloggers. If enough people are on board, the media will eventually listen to you.”
Problems at home
Freelance journalist Maheen Sabeeh highlighted that some topics were still not given proper coverage. “Balochistan remains a sidelined topic. Print media still manages to run some stories on it but news channels, which are the more common news source for the public, quickly move on to the next topic,” she said.
How can online content, especially blogs, be verified? Franklin said the writers should be asked for documents. “In all societies, rumours take over our lives. Such was the case when a mosque was going to be built next to the 9/11 site in New York and certain bloggers raised questions about the mosque’s Imam and became hostile,” he recalled. “News media in the United States also became negative. It was only after a month that the media finally looked into who the Imam was and then gave people the full story, dispelling all conspiracy theories.”
This led women rights activist Nuzhat Kidvai to raise the point that policies of the media groups matter more than an individual’s responsibility. Franklin agreed. Journalists believe in the truth but then there is a gap as companies screen their work, he said. “I met a group of journalists and asked them why they were in this line of work when there is danger and not enough money in it. They answered because it is important. I admire them for their commitment. Our job may be difficult, but it is satisfying.”