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MEDIA-PHILIPPINES: Citizen Journalism Gets Public Involved

Kara Santos - Asia Media Forum*

MANILA, Jul 20 2010 (IPS) - Television news images of a phony policeman on a motorcycle escorting a sedan travelling against the flow of traffic – submitted by a passing motorist – is a sign of the changing face of journalism and public involvement in the Philippines.

University students volunteered as poll watchers to ensure a clean, honest and transparent election. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

University students volunteered as poll watchers to ensure a clean, honest and transparent election. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

It heralds a growing form of public participation in this country of 94 million people that is often called the ‘text- message capital of the world’, involving citizens using technology for news and information, reaching out during disasters, demanding accountability and monitoring the conduct of the June presidential election.

“I sent in the video because I can’t take stomach the fact that people still violate traffic rules even when our new president obeys these,” says the contributor of the video that was picked up by the mainstream media.

Newly elected President Benigno Aquino III refused to use sirens or travel against the flow of traffic – a habit of past presidents that finds disfavour with many commuters – on the way to his Jun. 30 inauguration to “set a good example to the people”.

Using a variety of easily accessible social networking tools, media consumers are turning into news producers, to report – and influence – socio-political changes in the country.

Citizen-generated news links, photos, and videos often spread quickly and widely via social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, contributing to the vibrant citizen media scene in the country and in Asia.


Karlo Mikhail Mongaya, a contributor to Global Voices Online, an international community of bloggers and citizen journalists, believes blogs, micro-blogs and social networking tools have empowered traditionally boxed-in audiences.

“Citizen media projects have been vital in election monitoring here and in other countries, as well as other breaking news like disaster response and rescue operations, among others,” says Mongaya.

The May 10 presidential election saw a spike in the number of citizens who took on the role of monitors and information producers, from the campaign period through to the inauguration.

News organisations here have welcomed the phenomenon, and there are no signs of fear that they would lose their standing as the source of valuable information.

One major news network, GMA News and Public Affairs, invites readers to submit photographs and videos through its website, and launched a micro-site, ‘YouScoop’, to encourage breaking news by “non-professional news gatherers” who are first on the scene of newsworthy events. In the run up to the presidential vote, the network called for contributions on election-relation topics. Stephen Quinn, associate professor of journalism at Deakin University in Australia, points out the value of citizen journalism in times of breaking news and widespread coverage like the elections, where the mainstream media are unable to be everywhere at the same time.

“Most journalists are outnumbered in terms of the number of people out there who have some device that can record video or take pictures,” Quinn told IPS at the sidelines of a media forum here in June. “They (news organisations) need to work with the audience rather than dismiss them as being insignificant.”

While Internet penetration rates in the country remain low at nearly 21 percent, citizen journalism is boosted by the number of people with mobile phones and by the extent to which those who are online use the technology.

The 2008 National Telecommunications Commission estimates that there are some 60 million phone subscribers in the Philippines, and more than 600 million text messages sent daily. Text messages are used for purposes as varied as sending money, voting on television shows and election monitoring.

The Philippines ranked eighth among the world in number of Facebook users, with more than 8.3 of them in December 2009.

Media groups, particularly the Philippines’ two biggest television networks, have embraced citizen journalism through the use of mobile phones to deliver the news.

The nation’s other broadcasting giant, ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, also launched a highly successful citizen journalist programme, ‘Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo’ (Your Country, Your Watch), during the election period, inviting viewers to report the news in the country’s first automated elections.

According to site statistics, over 80,000 people registered to be ‘vote patrollers’ to send in reports on various aspects of the elections, including the disorderly conduct of voting and technical malfunctions in the counting machines. Video footage and photographs contributed by viewers continue to be used in the network’s daily newscast.

Citizen journalism thrives in countries where Internet penetration rates and new communication tools are increasing quickly, says Mongaya.

For example, “the ‘Mumbai Votes’ project in India compares the promises of politicians during elections and their actual performance during their term,” says Mongaya, who took part in the Citizen Media Summit held in Chile in May.

The ‘Adopt a Politician’ campaign in Brazil has citizens blogging about the work of politicians to hold them accountable for their actions, he adds.

Asia is particularly ripe for the growth of citizen journalism, with more than 42 percent of the world’s 1.73 billion Internet users hailing from the region.

“We have a big role to play in giving voices to relevant issues that are largely neglected by mainstream media,” says Mongaya. “Citizen media are important not just for raising voices but for pushing for social change.”

*The Asia Media Forum (http://www.theasiamediaforum.org) is a space for journalists to share insights on issues related to the media and their profession. It is coordinated by IPS Asia-Pacific.

 
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