Even in India, citizen journalism has made a difference in the rural and tribal regions. Take the example of the Aarey forest, where citizens‘ efforts resulted in the authorities declaring it as a forest and moving out the Mumbai Metro carshed project.
The world over, it seems as though there is a pattern to the protests that began for different reasons a year ago. Citizens fighting for their rights and demanding specific laws have taken to the streets—in Belarus, against President Alexander Lukashenko and the newly elected government, which they allege was formed after rigged polls.
Black Lives Matter, is an independent political and social movement set up for non-violent civil disobedience against incidents of police brutality against black people. These were held mainly between May and August this year, after the killing of George Floyd.
In Hong Kong, the protests, one of the longest, started in June against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. Finally, in July, Hong Kong Police arrested three activists under the new anti-protest law.
Thousands of citizens in Israel have been out on the streets for months against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government for alleged corruption and the mishandling of the Covid pandemic.
The protests in Nigeria began on October 7, with mostly young people demanding the scrapping of a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars).
For the last one year, citizens have been protesting in Chile. They have an issue with Chile’s constitution, since the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet. The protests in Venezuela got a shot in the arm as Opposition leader Juan Guaidó revived protests that had begun in 2014, after President Nicolás Maduro formed an authoritarian government.
Protesters in Bangkok have not given in as yet, continuing to demand the resignation of Prime Minister. They are demanding a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy.
Citizens are on the streets of Ivory Coast against President Alassane Ouattara’s move to seek a third term.
Our own neighbour Pakistan faced protests, as citizens and Opposition leaders blamed Prime Minister Imran Khan for the rising prices of flour, pulses and inflation.
Protests in Iraq in October marked the one-year anniversary of unprecedented protests against the ruling class.
Its neighbour, the Islamic Republic of Iran too has been facing protests against the state of its flagging economy. Iranian authorities have threatened a severe crackdown as they do not want a repeat of November 2019, when nearly 225 people died in anti-government protests.
In India itself, there have been protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has been against the Muslims. This year, there were more protests after the Hathras gang rape-murder.
If one glances at foreign television channels the details will only shock us the intense dissatisfaction prevailing in most countries, way before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the one thing that stands out is how the authorities do not wish such news to be put out, but increasingly, citizens and independent journalists are bringing to light the excesses of police and governments in these protests.
Citizens show the way
The common sentiment of discontent apart, we see everywhere, the authorities first clamping down on the protesters, police firing, violently curbing the protests and most of all, clamping down on the rights of citizens. In most cases, mainstream journalists are seen covering the protests effectively, but their messages are not necessarily allowed to reach the public. Even in the most democratic countries, this is the pattern being seen. Even as this clampdown on the dissemination of broadcast/publishing of news on protests is in place, we see how the administration first manages to spread fake news. This creates confusion and also seems to be an effective method to turn the citizens against the media that is integral to the survival of democracy.w
The world over, mainstream news organisations get videos, photographs and information from citizens. In fact, on May 12, 2008, the first news of a massive earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan district was put up by citizens. On that day, the news spread with 170 videos and by May 31, the number had grown to 1, 070. They were watched 100,000 times.” In fact, the author of the paper, ‘Citizen Journalism in China’ says, she saw a ‘seismic’ shift in the way their government viewed the media after this incident and gagged it. But despite the gag order, citizens have not stopped informing the world outside of the happenings in China.
In May, a citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, was seen in her YouTube video, standing outside a train station in Wuhan wherein she described the conditions that were deprivation of their human rights. The Chinese authorities are intolerant of any criticism from citizens and independent journalists. The same was recently seen in Hong Kong. However, few journalism students managed to capture the police excesses.
For the first time in America, we witnessed police attack the journalists during the Black Lives Matter protests, on a scale never seen before. This trend of authorities who seem desperate to curb protests and blame the communicator for the protests, instead of addressing the issue, seems to be the common thread running through all the protests in the world. This stems from the need to create distrust of the mainstream media. But interestingly, citizen journalists have filled in this void, taking precedence in breaking stories with videos and photographs. This was seen during the Black Lives Matter protests, where black citizens told us the story.
In fact, independent journalists and media students in Hong Kong captured some crucial moments which include footage of their riot police tackling a teen girl, pepperspraying a pregnant woman, and beating protesters inside the Yeun Long MTR station on July 27, 2019. Immediately after these were noticed by the authorities, they gagged the media by putting in place new, stifling guidelines.
The world is now witnessing protests in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where protests have been going for the last few years. In August 2013, Ruslan Mirzoeu, a worker from Minsk, was arrested for making a short provocative movie. He ridiculed the destruction of their social lives, which the authorities said was a wrong portrayal of their country. It did not stop there. The authorities in Belarus also attacked journalists covering the protests and foreign journalists covering the protests were stripped of their accreditation.
In the last few years, there have been authoritarian crackdowns on independent journalists, bloggers and media workers in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Protesters and vloggers in Bangkok met with the same fate, as authorities suspected the protesters were being helped by foreign governments and Thai nationals staying overseas. Authorities have been tracking online activity, especially chat groups, videos and photographs. Thai protesters have now developed a sign language to keep going, some of which include the three-finger sign from the Web series, The Game of Thrones.
Holding the powers-that-be responsible for violence, failure to govern or deprivation of one’s rights is the right of citizens and moreover, the fundamental role of journalism. In many cases, we see, like in India currently, how the media toes the line of the government. In 2011, the citizens of Egypt were the ones to expose government abuse in their country. Citizens began documenting evidence against the police, government officials and their excesses. In fact, traditional journalists were motivated after viewing videos uploaded by bloggers.
Even in India, citizen journalism has made a difference in the rural and tribal regions. Take the example of the Aarey forest, where citizens‘ efforts resulted in the authorities declaring it as a forest and moving out the Mumbai Metro carshed project. Citizens highlighted what the mainstream media failed to do, with the latter instead, supporting the Devendra Fadnavis government. Such victories are encouraging especially because India has a pathetic rank globally for freedom of the press and an equally bad one for citizen journalism. There have been attacks on independent journalists and few have been killed in India.