love, unquestionable

love, unquestionable
the glow is unmistakable

07 July 2009

Madagascar's blogging phenomenon revealed on BBC

In times of crisis, blogging can be much more than a way to simply voice one's point of view on a range of topics. In Madagascar, old and new bloggers saw themselves turning into a vital conduit of information -- text, audio, photo, and video -- through which the world could stay informed on the unfurling of the 2009 political crisis. In the process, a citizens' media movement has been ignited...

Listen to BBC's Madagascar correspondent as she tells the story of some individuals at the vanguard of the island's blogosphere.

(If you can't see the audio player, cut and paste into a new browser window:

05 July 2009

Citizen Journalists Reach Critical Mass

During some of the darkest moments of Madagascar’s recent political crisis, I was comforted by the discovery of a growing citizens’ media movement in the capital city – a confirmation that, for better or for worse, it often takes dire circumstances for major changes to be set in motion. The Foko Club and its plethora of citizen journalism activities is a perfect example of such change.

The name Lova Rakotomalala was popping up more and more frequently on my “Madagascar” daily Google Alert, linked to articles stemming from Global Voices and Rising Voices, where Lova was providing thorough analyses, balanced sources, and uncompromising probes into the political and social turmoil unfolding on the island. Through Lova’s work, I found the Foko group that he helped to found, and followed along as its network of bloggers diligently posted stories, updates, photographs, “tweets”, and other vital information that helped the country and the world to stay abreast of the daily events of the crisis. Meanwhile, my own new venture into blogging had turned thoroughly towards the same crisis, and the network of information being shared among myself and my peers via Facebook status updates, Google Talk updates and chats, posted links to photos, articles, and videos, and endless text messages from cell phone to cell phone across Antananarivo, was often explosive. The living room of our “safe house” felt like a newsroom, especially for the few days where our network reached all the way to CNN headquarters, where chats and tweets had led to live phone and video interviews. English, French, Malagasy; Madagascar, America, England, France, Canada, Sweden, and numerous other countries; the network that our own efforts at citizen-based reporting was reaching had a palpable effect on people’s awareness of events in Madagascar and their local and international implications.

Meanwhile, folks like us, and especially the members of Foko, were feeling the implications of their work and exploring their role as propagators of information more and more thoroughly. What is a blogger? Is a blogger a journalist, or some lesser version of one? What is the difference between carrying a press badge and being armed with only your powers of observation, analysis, and fair reporting – and the means to share this with a wide online audience? What are your rights as a blogger-cum-citizen-journalist? What are your restrictions? What national and international legislation, and what mechanisms of censorship and restriction should you be aware of?

These are the sorts of difficult questions that the members of Foko are asking themselves, as they did at yesterday’s workshop on “Crowd-sourcing Information in Times of Crisis in Madagascar”. Tools, techniques, tips, and a wealth of experiences were exchanged, as participants reflected critically on all that has been accomplished thus far, while looking towards the future of the open, fair, and widespread sharing of information on the island. Foko bloggers dialogued with members of the traditional media, exploring how the “new” and “traditional” must collaborate in order to better reach the citizenry of the capital city, the outlying regions, and the concerned global community.

When I had finally met Lova a few days prior to the workshop, I felt that I was meeting a celebrity. Should I have this maverick of citizens’ media sign my datebook? I was delighted to be invited to participate, and when the time came to share my experiences in building a community radio station and pursuing the spread of community radio in Madagascar, my mind was reeling with the possibilities of building Foko-radio partnerships towards that goal… Imagine, a Foko cluster producing audio clips of their blogs and reports, or of updates on Foko’s work around Madagascar, and sending them to community radio stations (private and public radios as well) around the country for broadcast? Or a simple text message alerting radio stations to news that their listeners should be aware of, or a Foko newsletter with ready-to-read texts for radio broadcast? And even Foko training workshops, where members travel to far-flung community radio stations and other concerned citizens’ groups, building their ability to provide fair, balanced, and relevant information to their communities even without a professional education or a press badge?

Many of these and other possibilities have been set in motion, and I am grateful to be a small part of the action. One drop in the ocean, towards a vibrant, responsible, and effective citizens’ media in Madagascar and the world.