By Abigail Kwok, Nor Baizura Basri and Simrit Kaur Amar Singh
CITIZEN journalism is fast gaining popularity in Southeast Asia, thanks to technology and recognition of the role of the public in news gathering, according to four MA Journalism alumni who spoke at the second day of the Fifth Annual Form for Emerging Leaders in Asian Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University on June 8.
Blogging allows citizen journalists to express themselves freely in Malaysia, said Susan Tam (MA Journalism 2008). She said although Malaysia does not have censorship on the web, bloggers can still be sued for libel or defamation under certain laws. Tam, who is a producer at Al-Jazeera, said a code of ethics among bloggers has yet to materialise.
“Bloggers are now invited to press conferences and given press cards to give them some kind of validity, this sometimes irks other journalists,” she said.
Similarly in Singapore, political bloggers are pushing the boundaries of what is possible. According to Trixia Enriquez (MA Journalism 2008), deputy foreign editor of Singapore’s Today newspaper, in the 2006 general election, the government placed restrictions on political podcasts. Two bloggers, however, managed to get their views across.
She said after one blogger, Alex Au, put up a picture of a large opposition rally in Hougang, the Straits Times followed suit by publishing it a couple of days later.
She also cited another popular blogger in Singapore, Lee Kin Mun, who writes under the name Mr. Brown. As punishment his column in Today was axed after he wrote a satirical piece against the government. He was allowed to keep his blog, however.
“This illustrates the point that there is a clear distinction in the government’s tolerance between the mainstream and alternative media,” said Enriquez.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, radio is the birthplace of citizen journalism, Jakarta Post’s Moch Kurniawan (MA Journalism 2008) said.
He cited Radio Elshinta, one of the largest radio networks in the country. Elshinta encourages citizen participation in newsgathering. Citizen journalists tip off Radio Elshinta to newsworthy events. For first-time citizen journalists, the radio network will first verify the information then ask a reporter to follow up, he said.
Moch Kurniawan attributed the radio station’s success to the “conducive environment” of radio, describing it as an “interactive medium.”
Every citizen journalist should have the three E’s: equip, expand, and empower, said Michael Josh Villanueva (MA Journalism 2008), from the Philippines GMA Network. He said that reporters in a multimedia environment should be equipped with gadgets because “news that is visually appealing is also more interesting.”