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New Media Continues to Grow in Afghanistan & Libya

While most Americans spent this last weekend celebrating the Labor Day holiday, the world of media didn’t take a vacation. Here’s a couple of cool stories from around the internet that you won’t want to miss:

Building Media City-by-City

The US Embassy in Kabul reported on its Facebook page that the first of many USAID-funded Community Media Centers has opened in Herat, Afghanistan. These media centers provide tools and training in everything from basic computer use to advanced multimedia editing, and are open to the public, including local small business owners and civil society organizations.

From the post: Roqeya Ahmadi, a resident of Hirat, has already become a regular visitor to the center, coming for training in digital photography and videography. Multimedia is the cornerstone of society, especially in Afghanistan, she said. After three decades of war, its an effective way to increase our people’s knowledge and to expand their vision of what they can do with their lives.

The plan is currently to open at least three more centers in the coming weeks, in Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar, with the longterm goal of creating a nationwide network of community media centers.

These community centers are an excellent idea, and should greatly increase exposure of local citizens to the tools and training needed to make high quality, high impact media. Small World News has conducted trainings in conjunction with two of these media centers in Herat and Jalalabad, which you can read about here.

Do you have a media center in your neighborhood? While creating one in Afghanistan is a challenge to be sure, you might already have the tools and contacts to start your own right where you live. Talk to your friends who like to shoot photos, post videos, and write blogs, and see what you can organize right in your own community. Don’t forget to grab a copy of the Small World News Guide to Safely and Securely Producing Media to be sure you’re publishing the best media you possibly can.

Missing in Libya

Mafqood is a new venture by Tripoli’s infamous Free Generation Movement and others in Libya to crowdsource the job of locating persons who’ve gone missing over the course of the country’s civil war. The website allows users to provide a detailed description of the missing person, upload photos, and explain the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. The descriptions are combined into a database, currently numbering over 100 reports, although it is unclear at the moment who has access – authorized or otherwise – to this database, and how exactly each entry will be investigated.

Still, the project shows some exciting potential. Take this story from Alive in Libya about volunteers with the Red Crescent in Benghazi. They are doing roughly the same job as Mafqood, although their time is split both compiling reports of missing persons as well as carrying out the difficult task of actually investigating and tracking them down. It’s easy to see how crowdsourcing only one piece of the job – gathering reports – could offer a big gain in efficiency if properly integrated with existing humanitarian efforts, such as the Red Crescent’s mission of tracking the missing and disappeared.

Of further interest to us here at SWN would be combining the efforts of Mafqood with additional technology, particularly mapping tools such as Ushahidi, to allow better visualization and processing of the data, as well as mobile tools like Frontline SMS, which would allow citizens with only a mobile phone to submit reports of missing persons and use call-in tip lines for locating the disappeared.

Hey Man, Nice Shot

John Pollock has a fascinating article up at MIT’s Technology Review examining the resilience of new media technology, as told through the story of Libya’s most famous journalist Mohammed Nabous, who was killed by Gaddafi forces while reporting on March 19.

From the post: “When the revolution started, Gaddafi cut all means of communication outside Libya,” says Gihan Badi, a Libyan architect based in the UK. She calls [Mohammed Nabbous], who is one of her best friends, “this genius guy,” in part because he saw what needed to be done and reacted fast. He left the street protests to spend two days rigging up a satellite connection for live feeds. “He just took all these lies away; he was sending a clear message to the whole world.”

A lot of people were involved. Nabbous reached out into his own and other networks. A group of figures like Badi acted as critical nodes, linking expatriate Libyans and other supporters. A friend of Mo’s working for a German supplier of cellphones to Libya got together some equipment, which was brought from Germany and smuggled into Benghazi via Egypt.

Even as the Gaddafi regime scrambled to block all communication, the technology, and much more importantly, dedicated citizens on the ground, kept the lines of communication open, between Libya and the outside world, and between Libyans themselves. As we’ve seen repeatedly, in Libya as well as elsewhere like Egypt and Iran, social media is extremely difficult for authoritarian regimes to cut off, as the very features that make new media new also make it nearly impossible to stop. Put simply, you can block the internet, but you can’t stop the media; You can kill Mohammed Nabous, but you can’t stop citizen journalists from telling their stories.

But the obvious power of martyrdom narratives and resilient networks doesn’t mean that they’re without fault. Nabous himself was a vocal proponent of the Transitional National Council, calling into question his independence as a critical journalist.

A free press, the goal in Nabbous’ and many other Libyans’ mind, does not consist of merely the ability to produce media, but also the fundamental elements of critical, independent journalism. Social media creates a system that is more resilient than traditional media outlets, but it is also more open, and thus subject to abuse.

With the system as open as it is, how do you preserve the integrity of journalism? How do you prevent, say, the rebels from filibustering the open system with propaganda, or pro-regime elements from poisoning it with misinformation? These are not easy questions to answer, although it certainly begins with ensuring that the system is so open, so broadly inclusive of all segments of society (official, as with the TNC, or unofficial, as with opposition groups or unheard communities) that no voice is able to dominate or interfere with the others.


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