Field Monitor's training

Around the world, there are stories unfolding that you won’t believe. But what Aasim has to tell you happens in your own country. Maybe it will inspire you go out and find your own story.

Selective Journalism

Have you heard about that village in interior Sindh where the total population is 300 but the number of votes cast is historically about 30,000? Or about that man in a burqa who votes again and again and again? How about another village whose entire crop was burnt overnight because they have historically been voting for some Sardar or another? Or in Kohat, about the 35,000 people whose votes are registered so far away that they cannot make the journey leaving their votes vulnerable to misuse/fraud?

It’s entirely likely that many people haven’t heard these stories or others like it. Many are just dismissed as popular myth, a rumor spread for political point scoring. But they’re all true.

Yet you still haven’t heard them.

Why? Because a village with a population of 300 doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. Nor does the man in a burqa voting ten times, nor a village’s entire crop being burnt down. You haven’t heard these stories, because they’re not reported by your otherwise vibrant and big brother-ish news media.

Our media looks at the macro, while turning a blind eye to the micro. It looks at the national and not the regional. Once in a while, they choose to dive deep into an issue, but come out and walk away the next day, never to look back again. That’s the shelf life of TV.

But, coming back to that village of 300 people. For them what happens in their village is the biggest story in the world. And it needs to be reported.

Enter the Jedi

A strange, wonderful and dangerous synergy is taking place between three things: the smart phone, the internet and social media platforms. The decreasing cost of technology has allowed a large number of ordinary citizens across the globe to arm themselves with cell phones which are continuously connected to the internet, allowing access to email and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube. And these cell phones also have audio and visual recording capabilities, some at very respectable levels of quality. Now, all these ordinary citizens need is a little dose of curiosity and a shot of ownership; the outcome of which would be the birth of a citizen journalist.

Chinese bloggers have been at it for years, reporting anonymously on the corruption of high government officials in a society which continues to keep an iron hold on the freedom of speech of its citizens. These bloggers have also reported on human rights abuses against minorities and on the general highhandedness of the Chinese government on its citizens. Many have paid for their blogging with their lives. Many have had to leave. But they got the story out, and got the world listening.

There are many examples strewn across the globe of citizen journalists using new age technology and social media platform to report incident and stories from their regions. The Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al Assad, and the Arab spring are two international examples. Here at home, does anyone remember the MeherBokhari, MubashirLuqman and Malik Riaz threesome? Remember seeing that video? That was citizen journalism at its dirtiest. And finest.

The First Battalion

Citizen journalism is taking root in Pakistan and will be on display in the upcoming elections. Like all such exercises, it will be a while before it takes off and will make mistakes along the way. But it’s coming.Many organizations who are working with rural journalists are now arming them with smart phones and training them in the dark arts of social media platforms.  The first cadre will be working in the upcoming elections, reporting directly from their constituencies and polling stations, looking out for any story of electoral fraud, violence, intimidation, the use of threats and inflammatory language etc. They will be reporting all of this on social media platforms and using the same tool to inform news agencies, government organizations and other institutions of the same.

The game has changed. Now everyone’s a journalist. Be afraid.