ONE PONEMA FOR E-journalism (b)


What Is Citizen Journalism? A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation

Chapter One 1.


Citizen journalism has attracted a great deal of attention of media scholars and researchers in recent decades, and there have been extensive studies on the phenomenon of citizen journalism, in part because it encourages ‘the man or woman in the street’ to become a news contributor. By providing the coverage of news on a wide range of issues, these people may be able to tell their stories, expressing their political views with few editorial constraints. They may also be able to address the ‘democratic deficits inherent in a corporate-dominated, highly commercialised media system, its inequalities of access, representation, and political/ideological power, its economic and structural integration with globalizing capitalism and consumer culture’ (Carroll and Hacket, 2006 p. 83). Therfore, it is often suggested that citizen journalism may play a crucial role in conveying alternative opinions on important news issues and, at the same time, perform the critical role of a watchdog. With the introduction of modern technology, people are actively engaging in the news media. From the introduction of emails or emailing lists to the current era of online discussion forums and social media, we are witnessing a rapid growth in the use of the Internet, and people are communicating with each other online in many different ways. Using the Internet, people from one continent of the world are able to share their work experience with that of another (Thorsen, 2009).

Social media has further changed the mode of communication, making the flow of news and information more dynamic and changing the ways in which news and information are produced, transferred, and consumed by the public. Modern technology, such as the Internet, has now further enabled ordinary people to do essentially what professional journalists are able to do – they produce and distribute news information in many forms, from podcast editorials to reports about council meetings on the Internet (Cheri, 2014). In a broad sense, citizen journalism has brought about a tremendous ‘press revolution’, adding an online dimension to the field of media, changing media environments and impacting traditional journalism practices in the world (Stempel et al., 2000). Some prominent media critics, such as Gillmor (2006), suggest that this new form of journalism — which allows ordinary people to act as a journalist at little cost, in theory, with a global reach — is rapidly changing the mode of communication across the world. He describes the traditional media relationship as a lecture in which consumers either accept or reject what is produced but have little say over content. The proponents of the citizen-media initiative see citizen journalism as transformative and suggest that citizen journalism gives a voice to those who would never usually be heard in the mainstream media and provides people an opportunity to share their political views through a widely accessible platform (Joyce, 2007). As the communication system has gone online, most media organizations appear to have realised the potential of their news audience and have now started embracing the experience of their audiences by sharing their stories and using their knowledge and hosting their opinions. In 2006, CNN launched its own news site,, dedicated to citizen journalism where citizen journalists from any part of the world could publish their news articles with little editorial constraints (Allan and Thorsen, 2009; Kperogi, 2010). The site now publishes a large number of news articles written by its citizen journalists from around the world every day. The mainstream media has also now started relying on the participation of readers, particularly those who are able to create content that potentially enhances the quality of news coverage (Paulussen and Ugille, 2008; Wardle and Williams, 2010).

Moreover, it provides spaces for readers to engage in political discussions about important news events, such as elections (Thorsen, 2010). With the introduction of the Internet, people from South Asian countries are also experiencing a growth in the use of digital media. From the 2008 Mumbai terror attack to the recent devastating earthquake of Nepal, they published a number of first-hand accounts of news events on the Internet. During these crises, citizen journalism was the main source of communication, seeking immediate information about new developments for many South Asian diaspora around the world. Some media commentators even remarked that the use of social media during and in the wake of the earthquake in Nepal had signalled the beginning of the real citizen journalism in the country (The Nagarik Daily, 23 May 2015). Citizen journalism in South Asian countries has now widened the parameters of public participation in discourse on issues of public concern by using a range of genres and media, enabling social activism, and sparking debates. In 2011, the Global Information of Pakistan stated that a growing number of Pakistani people were realising the potential of the Internet and engaging in the news media, frequently publishing videos of human rights violences, such as illegal detention, torture and the killing of political activists, citizen journalists, and students (Ahamad and Dad, 2011). In spite of being one of the least developed nations in the region in terms of internet penetration and having a low literacy rate, Pakistan has now become home to some of the most successful users of the Internet for advocacy, driving social and political discourses for human rights and democracy. In 2006, the government of Pakistan blocked several websites in response to growing citizen journalism reports about the negative actions of the government (Ahmad and Dad, 2011). With the recent economic growth, the people of South Asian countries are also experiencing a new way of life. The South Asian region is forecast to have an economic growth by a real 6% in 2015 and by 6.4% in 2016 compared to 5.4% in 2014, potentially making it the second fastest growing region in the world after East Asia and the Pacific (The World Bank, 2014). With the increase in household income per capita, the public’s attitudes towards the news media have also gradually changed in recent decades. There are 116,531 periodical titles in India alone, and some 373,839,764 copies of newspapers are sold daily (Pandita, 2013). Several universities and colleges in the region now offer degree courses in journalism and mass communication.

In addition, several press institutes across the region are providing short journalism courses to those aspiring to become journalists. An increased trend in the world towards globalization has also added a new dimension to the public sphere of the South Asian countries. Entrepreneurs from developed countries are involved in South Asian countries, making the region one of the best lucrative spaces for capital, talent and ideas (Pillai, 2013). Today, South Asian diaspora is among the world’s largest and most widespread, and it is growing exponentially. It is estimated that over twenty-five million people of Indian descent live abroad; many millions more have roots in other countries of the subcontinent, in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. There are three million South Asians in the UK alone and approximately the same number resides in North America (Chatterji and Washbrook, 2013). South Asians have also a significant presence in Southeast Asia and Africa, and are increasingly visible in the Middle East. This emerging trend of globalization has further enabled greater interaction and integration among the diaspora people, forming and expanding diasporic communities in the world. Thus, beyond the economics the diaspora movements also contribute to diasporic identity building in host countries. This process of diaspora re-engagement has added a new dimension to the political discourse in the public sphere of South Asian countries. Despite poverty, the rise in political awareness and political activism has further changed political engagement in recent years. The decades-long civil wars of Sri Lanka and Nepal have ended giving a new hope to the people of both countries. Bhutan has made a new transition from an absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy through its first general election in 2008, becoming the world’s newest democratic country.

Fighting the Islamic militants, Afghanistan is also making its way to political transition, and people are actively involved in citizen journalism. Despite these new dimensions, citizen journalism is limited to a small segment of South Asian population due to the lack of some basic infrastructures required for citizen journalism practices, such as electricity, computers and the Internet. The governments of South Asian countries in recent years have prioritised digital access, and cheaper smartphones are enabling millions more to access to the Internet; however, internet penetration in the region is relatively low by global standards and thus only a small number of users have a fixed internet connection. Most people access to the Internet via cybercafés due to poor technological infrastructures. In addition to infrastructure limitations, there are also other challenges, such as cost considerations, internet illiteracy, and languages. South Asia is frequently described in the Western media as an emerging economy where poor people are becoming rich; however, South Asian countries are still home to many of the developing world’s poor — about 571 million people survive on less than $1.25 per day, and they make up more than 44% of the developing world’s poor (World Bank, 2013). This conundrum of everyday contradictions intersects with the world of the news media and citizen journalism in several ways (Sonwalker, 2009). Yet, citizen journalism is taking off with speed: media businesses are growing rapidly and the population of South Asian countries are now some of the largest news consumers in the world (Pandita, 2013). Hundreds of local television channels and local radio stations, some of them initiated by ordinary people, have grown in recent years. Beyond gushing news accounts and a variety of Western models of reality television shows, such as The Nepali Tara of Nepal and India’s Kaun Banega Crorepati, citizen journalism is also changing the public perception of life, often providing news coverage from alternative perspectives. In 2012 Bhutanese citizen journalists, for example, provided an extensive coverage of news about increasing suicides among the refugees in the US and elsewhere and discussions in the coverage of news ranged from the causes of the suicides to how to take effective measures to overcome depression in new countries. A similar coverage by citizen journalists was observed in the Indian state of Assam in the same year, where violent clashes erupted between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims, killing at least 100 and displacing over 400,000 people.

The number of mobile phone users in the region is making citizen journalism all the more important, with the public uploading mobile phone snaps of news events to various news sites, including social media, as and when they happen (Gaur et al., 2013). Mere moments after the Mumbai attack in 2008, ordinary people who were witnessing the unfolding drama posted messages on the microblogging sites, such as Twitter. Some mainstream media outlets, including The BBC, used the first-hand accounts provided by ordinary people of the events on their blog posts, twitter messages, and in e-mails. Footage captured on mobile phones by guests trapped in the hotels was shown on Indian news channels (Sonwalkar, 2009). Whilst there is an increasing amount of research into the citizen journalism phenomenon, academic studies focusing on the South Asian region have received limited attention. There is evidence that there have been a few attempts to comprehend citizen journalism from the region, but they are more focused on a specific country, particularly India, than on the whole region (Sonwalker, 2009; Thomas, 2012; Noor, 2012). Thus, scholarly contributions in this area have been limited and are rarely comparative and transcultural in scope from the global point of view. It is in this context that this thesis aims to investigate the phenomenon of citizen journalism, focusing on the eight member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (hereafter SAARC), namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, in South Asia. Particular focus is given to, first, what types of news issues are covered by citizen journalists from the SAARC countries, and second, how citizen journalists from the region provide the coverage of citizen journalism news to their news readers.

1.1 Aim and objectives

Given the amount of research into citizen journalism that predominantly focuses on the Western concept of citizen journalism practice — such as how ordinary people engage in the news media or how the mainstream media is incorporating user-generated content in its coverage of news — it is essential to investigate the phenomenon from a comparative perspective elsewhere in the world. Thus, the aim of this thesis has been to provide an insight into citizen journalism from the perspective of the SAARC countries by analysing the salient characteristics of citizen journalism from this region during the year 2012. This period was important in the region as it witnessed several important news events, including government changes, social and political crises, and peace processes. In order to achieve the above aim, five objectives were identified. The first objective is to investigate the genres of citizen journalism news articles in the sample. An important focus of this aspect of the thesis is to assess the patterns of citizen journalism news from a comparative perspective. This means that this thesis will provide an insight into the patterns of citizen journalism news from the SAARC countries. The second objective is to analyse the supplementary materials used in the coverage of citizen journalism news in the sample. This will be achieved in two ways. First, by analysing images used in the coverage of citizen journalism news from a comparative perspective, and second by analysing hyperlinks used to enhance news articles by citizen journalists. This means how supplementary news materials are used in the coverage of news in the SAARC countries will be discussed from a comparative perspective. The third objective is to investigate citizen journalists as well as their participation in interactive news activities, such as comments. This objective will be achieved through two measures — by analysing the backgrounds of citizen journalists, e.g. political activists, refugees, or students etc. Second, by analysing the comments that ordinary people have posted on the sample about news articles. The outcome of the analysis will be helpful in understanding who the citizen journalists in the SAARC region are and how they engage in discourse through the news media. The fourth objective is to critically analyse the construction of discourse in citizen journalism in Bhutan. The achievement of this objective will help us to understand the phenomenon of Bhutanese citizen journalism in greater detail. The final objective is to assess what the relationship is between the SAARC model of citizen journalism news practice and that of the West. In this respect, this thesis will examine the news practices in the sample to see whether there are any similarities or differences with the West. In order to address these broad issues, this thesis will aim to answer the following series of questions: 

What is citizen journalism?  What characterises citizen journalism news from the SAARC countries?  How does citizen journalism from the SAARC countries differ in comparision to other contexts?  How do Bhutanese citizen journalists construct discourses in their coverage of news?


Nareshchandra Rai

Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Robert Gordon University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Communication, Marketing and Media Aberdeen Business School The Robert Gordon University 2016

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