Posts Tagged social media and democracy

Can anybody be a journalist?

Who can be called a journalist? The answer isn’t so easy, but so important in a world where everything goes so fast and information has a great impact on human activities.

Today, almost anybody in the world has a smartphone and an access to the web. Anybody can post a picture, a text or a video and give a sort of information to the world. How? With the new media: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia or YouTube. Information is so easy and so quickly widespread trough the planet. “Great evolution”, will say the ones. “Disinformation” will respond the others.

Will the professional journalists disappear?
Picture: macalester.edu

The raise of citizen journalism: the new world’s voice

People don’t want to stay silent. For many centuries, journalists have been people’s voices. They found, collected and verified the information and always searched for the truth. But with the Internet’s democratization, people don’t want to wait that the journalists let them speak. They prefer to raise their voice directly and explain or show something to the whole world.

With the advent of Internet 2.0, new media technologies, for example social networking and media-sharing websites, gave citizens the opportunity to give information. Those citizen journalists often report breaking news faster than “normal” journalists. We can cite the events of Arab Spring, which were a lot report by anonymous citizens in the heart of the revolution. Another example of this quick report and exchange of information is the “Occupy Wall Street” movement which debuted on September 17th 2011.

Syrian activists send information with their computer.
Picture: bbc.co.uk

A really actual example is Syrian crisis. The country is closed and inhospitable for the journalists. But Syrian people who live the war post videos and testimonies on YouTube, social media or blogs. They claim their story and give a reality that many journalists just can’t report. It benefits to the citizens in the world, to realize what’s happening there!

Chris Shaw, the editorial director of ITN, a Britannic production society, said to The Guardian that social networks were opening up “whole new vistas for documentary filmmakers. You can make the most amazing films using content from social networks, sometimes with the permission and sometimes without the permission of the people who shot them.”

This reality takes all its sense with the Syrian crisis. “There are places like Syria where journalists haven’t been able to go and […] there is an extraordinary resource on social networks for current affairs, even though we have to take extraordinary caution to verify what we use”, said Chris Shaw.

Let’s see a short funny video, but with interesting points of reflection. “No no, I’m the journalist!”:

Let people participate

What we can observe today, is that many classical media websites give people the possibility to react and deepen the information. You can let comments in the website’s blog for example. Professional journalists are not alone anymore, because readers give a feedback and let them know what they think about the article and more globally about the topic.

Other media are based on the concept that citizens can contribute to the news by giving information or sharing links, but with the control and the work of professional journalists behind. This is the case of Digital Journal or Rue89 in France for example. But is it citizen journalism? I don’t think so. We can call this hybrid journalism, because citizens and professional journalists work together.

But some websites or blogs are entirely “citizen made”. You, I, anybody can add an article and participate to information’s transmission. But these platforms ask the contributors to share valuable and verified information, and grant themselves the right to remove an inappropriate content. For example, we can mention the Quebec’s website centpapiers or the better known Wikinews.

American information’s channel CNN launched in 2008 its new participative site: CNN iReport. This website is only based on citizens content. They can post a story, picture, commentary or video and create the news. What is interesting with this concept is that CNN’s journalists sometimes select a subject and diffuse it on the classic channels. With this system, citizens can really be a part of the media agenda setting.

Citizens, yes! Citizen journalists, no!

So where is the difference between a citizen and a professional journalist? Well, let’s go back to the very base of journalism: giving information. Information isn’t just a concept; it’s the reality, the truth, what’s really happening. Yes, journalism is “making information” and transmitting this information to the people; a full-time job!

Here are some answer people gave to the question “Who should be called a journalist?” on ijnet (international journalist’s network):

If we set aside the fact that professional journalists work for a media and are paid for this, we must consider that journalists respond to some exigencies and rules. They have to verify the sources, analyze them, explain the events, replace them in their context and be as objective as possible. And the journalists must respect deontological rules. Do the citizen journalists respect those exigencies? Because they must, instead we just can’t call them journalists.

Another point is that a professional journalist isn’t in the commentary when he writes an article. When a citizen journalist writes, we often observe committed comments. Professional journalist informs, when online citizen testifies to what he sees, ears or notices.

But today, citizens contribution is a wealth for journalists. An inexhaustible source of ideas and materials than can be used. And it forces journalists to do their job: treat information and not only transmit it as it is. Citizens make their citizen’s job, when they transmit something important and newsworthy to the journalists.

You’re a citizen, a journalist, or maybe a citizen journalist: what do you think? Leave you comments!

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La tragédie humaine : Comment en parler ?

  Camp de Korem. Ethiopie. 1984

« La pauvreté, on s’en remet. La misère c’est une chose atroce, qui coupe les jambes et la tête.

La misère, elle est tragédie » Michel Ragon

Sebastião Salgado : De la réalité à l’art. Né au Brésil en 1944. Photographe engagé,  il a parcouru plus de 100 pays pour dénoncer les injustices et présenter la réalité en noir et blanc dans un profond réalisme magique.

Reportage photographique de 1984 à 1985 au Sahel publié dans plusieurs journaux internationaux : L’opinion publique prend connaissance d’une manière inédite de la sècheresse, de l’exode de la population rurale et de la guerre civile provoquée par la famine.  Une région qui, encore de nos jours connaît la sous-alimentation extrême.  L’organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture, le FAO fait un appel urgent pour réagir à cette crise alimentaire.

Reportage photographique au Sahel

1984, cette région d’Afrique subit une  sécheresse des plus désastreuses ainsi qu’une famine qui tuera plus d’un million de personnes et conduira à l’exode de milliers d’autres. Salgado, un des photographes documentaires les plus célèbres de tous les temps, photographie cette cruelle réalité dans la plus grande beauté artistique. Sa  photo «Camp de Korem. Ethiopie »  ci-dessus, artistiquement,  est un exemple de pièce d’art presque biblique, anachronique, impossible à situer dans un moment historique.  Sous cette lumière qui pénètre entre la nature et autour de cet arbre ancestral, se trouvent  des centaines de personnes dont la souffrance est immesurable.  Les photographies de Salgado ont la caractéristique de réunir deux mondes apparemment opposés : la tragédie et l’art.

Pour connaître sa biographie et tous ses travaux, visiter le site Internet : http://www.amazonasimages.com/

Instrumentaliser la misère pour créer de l’art?

Il y a d’une part, ceux qui revendiquent « l’art pour l’art », postulant l’autonomie de l’art  et rejetant tout engagement social ou politique, valorisant ainsi le caractère poétique de celui-ci. D’autre part, il y a ceux qui défendent « l’art pour le changement social » où l’art serait un instrument pour le changement de la société, et par lequel l’artiste est appelé à réagir et être un acteur précurseur de changements.

Salgado explique que ses photographies sont une manière de présenter le monde, dont la réalité n’est pas en noire ou en blanc,  mais un amalgame infini de gris. Où parmi la misère, il  peut  y avoir la beauté  et parmi la richesse, il  peut y  avoir la monstruosité. Salgado explique  dans une interview « Dans le monde où nous vivons, nous sommes tous concernés, nous ne pouvons pas fermer les yeux, ne pas participer à un changement, et la photographie est un langage qui nous aide à comprendre le monde, elle n’a pas besoin de traduction, elle est universelle »… . UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism présente une conférence dédiée à Sebastiao Salgado où il est question de son art, ses inspirations et sa manière de concevoir et interpréter le monde.

Comment parler d’exil, de faim, de misère dans les médias?

Le mandat, la responsabilité des journalistes est d’être des porte-paroles des plus démuni(e)s, de faire connaître au public des réalités lointaines, et participer à la compréhension du monde. Et  pour les plus héroïques, lutter pour  un  changement social. Aux journalistes, chiens de  garde de la société, défenseurs de la démocratie, de la liberté d’opinion, et d’une utopique objectivité, une question se pose : Comment présenter la faim à ceux qui comme vous ont l’estomac bien rempli ?

Salgado a choisi  de le faire avec des photographies solennelles. Certains pensent que son  travail est abstrait,  s’approchant plus du travail artistique que journalistique. D’autres pensent qu’il a une manière propre d’interpréter les faits, générant un impact  sur la société, la sortant de son impassibilité quotidienne pour la mener dans un monde où se marient horreur et beauté, avec une subtilité magistrale.

Est-ce qu’il existe une manière correcte de parler de la misère humaine ? Il n’existe certainement pas une manière politiquement correcte de faire. Il existe un protocole, un cadre déontologique à respecter : raconter véridiquement les faits, être rigoureux, faire recours à plusieurs sources, confirmer et contraster les informations  etc. Il y a des guides pratiques qui expliquent tout cela.  Pourtant, il est plus complexe de choisir la forme, la tonalité, l’émotion, l’angle, la manière de présenter la réalité, la souffrance et joie des autres, surtout quand personne n’aime voir ni entendre parler de la misère.

La famine, sujet d’actualité

Jean Ziegler, rapporteur spécial des Nations-Unies pour le Droit à l’alimentation de 2000 à 2008 explique dans son dernier livre : « Toutes les cinq secondes un enfant de moins de dix ans meurt de faim, tandis que des dizaines de millions d’autres, et leurs parents avec eux, souffrent de la sous-alimentation et des terribles séquelles physiques et psychologiques. Et pourtant, l’agriculture aujourd’hui serait en mesure de nourrir normalement 12 milliards d’êtres humains. Soit près du double de la population » (Destruction Massive, géopolitique de la faim, 2011).

La manière de présenter la tragédie de la famine est sans doute un questionnement obligé : La famine est de loin la principale cause de mort de déréliction dans le monde. Mourir de faim est extrêmement douloureux, une longue agonie qui entraîne des souffrances physiques et psychiques intolérables.  Les médias ont donc l’obligation de parler constamment, infatigablement,  et de toutes les manières possibles d’une des plus grandes  causes de mortalité dans le monde : la faim.

«Aujourd’hui, un enfant mort de faim, est un enfant assassiné » Jean Ziegler.

Si vous souhaitez rester informé à ce sujet, comprendre ou agir pour lutter contre la faim dans le monde, suivez les mouvements : En finir avec la faim ou SOS Faim.

Que pensez-vous des photographies de Salgado ?

Pensez-vous que les médias parlent assez de la famine dans le monde ?

Avez-vous des idées pour lutter contre la faim ?

« El mundo nada puede contra un hombre que canta en la miseria ».

«  Le monde ne peut rien faire contre un homme qui chante parmi la misère »

Ernesto Sabato

Violeta Ferrer

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Swiss Politicians and social Media

Social media are transforming our world and the way we communicate. More and more Swiss people are using Twitter and Facebook: nearly 40% of the Swiss population is on Facebook (3,019,940 swiss users)!  Around the world, politiciens are using those plateforms to communicate with citizens. The swiss politicians, even if they aren’t the most assiduous, are no exception to the rule. Do they really notice the impact of social media? How do they use these sites? Is it of any good for the democracy? What are the risks?

Electoral interests or how to reach the young people.

Most Swiss politicians think that the impact of social medias on elections or votes is very little. However, they use them mostly during those periods. Some politicians even neglect them completely when there are no electoral terms. What is certain is that social medias are a useful tool to reach specific citizens:

 «Using social medias makes it possible to reach a different public, younger than the radio listeners and newspapers readers: people which don’t necessarily vote »

Liliane Maury-Pasquier in the interview that she gave at MAJ consulting, dans le car de DMI© politique genevoise, a study on the usage of Social Media by the Geneva’s politicians.

It is a known fact that most social medias users are young and that they aren’t the most fervent voters. Here is a chart on the swiss Facebook users according to their age category (from socialbakers.com):

As rough guide, let’s take a look at the age of the voters, on march 2012 in Geneva:

Aware of that phenomenon many political parties (Liberal-Radical, Socialiste, etc) encourage their members to use those platforms. The UDC, a right wing nationalist party, even propose lessons on how use of social media … Maybe because it faced allready some problems with it. (We will see that in the last section.)

Personnaly, I don’t know if using the social medias is going to change anything: people mostly use Facebook and Twitters to look up things that they are already interested in. That’s even more the case, when we see how the use those plateforms.

The Upheaval of the Top-Down

Almost every Swiss politicians has a Facebook or/and Twitter account, but very little use it well – by respecting the potentialities offered and the new paradigm that those new medias imply. Most of them treat those plateforms as they would the old medias: they tweet or post on Facebook in the same way as they would speak on the radio – i.e. without any interaction or dialogue with the public. This way is called TOP-DOWN. What the politicians have to understand is the redifining of the link with the readers, who aren’t passive anymore. Top-down scheme is over, time for the horisontalisation!

The MAJ consulting study talks a lot about this flaw: “Geneva’s politicians considere the new medias moslty as a marketing tool. They are interested in self-promotion (…). There is almost no interaction with the public.”  A easy way to see that is the few questions or survey that the politicians post. They usually don’t take part in the discussion that take place in the comments section.

Again, a paradox: When asked for the reason why they use Facebook, the swiss politicians emphasize on the close link created with the public, the possibility to acquaint with  citizens concerns and points, to debate and convince. Pretty hard to do with no exchange at all…

There are some exceptions, usually from the part of the young politicians. Philippe Nantermod (vice-presidentof the young PLR) participate to discussion, initiates debates and answers gladly to the readers questions. Olga Baranova (member of the socialist party) goes a step further in taking advices and ideas from those social medias to contribute to her political speeches and positioning.

Almost no tweet

Swiss politicians don’t use much Twitter. As a sign of this disinterest, a look at the Swiss Federal Council: if every member of the council has a Facebook account (part of Ueli Maurer), only one of them has an active Twitter account. Yet this micro-blogging plateform have a real benefit: diffuse your views and opinions, your agenda and your thought in real-time. Some swiss politicians use it all the same. An easy way to see their publications is the @Politiker list on Twitter, which collects all their tweets:

A probable reason why Twitter is a put aside, is the time-consuming aspect of the social medias. Ada Mara (Socialist Party) told me that she spent  two hours a day on them!

Social Media, a Good for Democracy?

With the Web 2.0, everyone has a voice: the monopoly of big media companies and journalists in the gate-keeping and agenda-setting is over. As we have seen, social-medias allow a new way of communication and exchange of information between politciens and citizens. Politicians aren’t on their pulpits anymore, they come down the stage, close to the people. With that, they have to accept to be played up, to answer embarassing or disturbing questions: in a word, they have to accept the new transparency criteria.

We can bet on the fact that it’s going to have a big impact on how politics do their job. Maybe soon, as René Tregouet claimed (in a study called Des pyramides de pouvoir au réseaux de savoir), the member of parliament will have to conduct survey on the Internet, before taking any major decision.

An exemple of this happend during the last election in the Canton of Vaud, where three you candidates presented themselves as Wikicrates: if elected, they promessed to vote in the “Grand Conseil” (Executive of the Canton) as the people would have ask them to on social medias. They didnt’ get elected, but this shows how the politics may change in it’s very function.

Social Media and Politics, what Risks?

First, there is a risk of losing the distinction between private and public life. Old school politicians tend to maintain this distinction, as Antonio hodgers (Ecologist Party) who cleaned up his Facebook page when he decided to use in a political purpose. Philippe Nantermod, as for him, told me that he liked mixing up his political and private life, that for him it didn’t make sense to isolate one from the other. (Is this distinction important to you?)

The risk is that the personality of a politician counts more that his ideas. The same goes for the instrumentalization of this image in order to win election, as we may see in the US. For me, that’s a really big issue. Another aspect is to reduce political topics to “small sentences”, especially on Twitter. It is very difficult to have a complex discussion on that type of media, cause you down want your public to get bored.

This video from Nouvo (RTS, novembre 22nd 2010), talks about the possible manipulation which can occure on the social medias:

Conclusion

It’s a fact that the new social medias will to change the way we mesure and practice democracy. As for now, the majority of Swiss politicians didn’t realize the potential upheaval implied: they use mostly those plateforms to promote themselves, instead of using them as a new way to dialogue with their constituents and the citizens in general.

In the future, we’ll see if the good contributions of those plateforms will supplant the risks and downsides. And you, what do you think, are Facebook and Twitter a good way to improve democracy? Would you vote for a Wikicrate?

(1. My article was focusing on the swiss politicians and the way they use social medias. You can find a really interesting study on the swiss political parties and the way they use social medias on this site: http://www.virtua-marketing.com/wp-content/uploads/Etude-Partis-Politiques-sur-Facebook_2012.pdf)

Appendixe: twitter and facebook gaffes.

To finish, let’s take a look at two gaffes that costed their job and politicial afiliation to two UDC politicians…

 Alexandre Müller (#DailyTalk): “Maybe do we need a new  crystal night, this time against mosques.”

Sepi Spiess, talking about a moldavian thief who got killed by the police: ” I was really happy to learn that. That’s how it should go. We ought to shoot them, so they don’t cost us anything. The foreigners make fun of us and our laws. ”

You are warned, if you are mean, drunk or pissed off, think twice before tweeting!

By Alan Monnat

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