Citizen Media Watch

mars 2nd, 2008

Hard times for bloggers and journalists in Sri Lanka

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Living in Sweden, and especially taking an active part in covering and exploring social and citizen media, I take many things for granted. One is the right to take photos in public areas, another to report about what I see and opinions and thoughts I have on any thinkable subject.

In other parts of the world, however, those simple actions can get you into serious trouble. I recently read an article in AsiaMedia about the situation in Sri Lanka. The country is the world’s third most dangerous place for journalists to operate, with only Iraq and Somalia being more deadly. Seven journalists were killed there in 2007.

Pedestrians who use their cellphones to film bomb attacks or even everyday events get questioned by police, and it’s not only authorities that pose a threat to reporters or anyone with a camera. There’s a trend of citizens not turning to the tools of citizen media to improve their situation, but instead turning against anyone trying to do this, or anyone remotely suspected of it.

Anyone with a still or video camera in public is immediately suspected as a ”trouble-maker.” This endangers our right to click and shoot for personal or professional purposes.

Despite this, however, there is a movement of citizen journalism, though it’s a lonely and vulnerable job, especially with a decrease in democracy in recent years. New media activist Sanjana Hattotuwa is interviewed, and says:

– In Sri Lanka, the significant deterioration of democracy in 2006-2007 has resulted in a country where anxiety and fear overwhelm a sense of civic duty to bear witness to so much of what is wrong. No amount of mobile phones and PCs is going to magically erase this deep rooted fear of harm for speaking one’s mind out.

The article writer, Nalaka Gunawardene, brings up an example which clearly shows the poor state of democracy and the hardship for bloggers in Sri Lanka.

A fellow blogger recently wrote a moving piece about a 65-year-old woman who sells fruits and vegetables at her local market in Colombo. The story behind the story was how the blogger had been surrounded and questioned by four men and the police, who demanded to know whether she had ”permission from the municipality to photograph.”

Luckily, the vegetable sellers came to her rescue. ”They… said they asked me to come with the camera to take some photographs of them,” she wrote.

But she posed the question: ”Do we have to have a camera license like a gun license of yesteryear?”

(via Social Media)


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