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FROM: Mr Seeneevasen ARMOOGUM of the Republic of Mauritius

Profession: Director of News at Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation, Former


Director of Broadcast Content, Independent Broadcasting Authority of Mauritius
and Former Chief Editor at Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation
Email: nanda@intnet.mu

Can Citizen Journalists produce


Professional Journalism?

Nowadays viewers, listeners, readers, Internet surfers, bloggers and the public in general pretend
to have journalistic skills, and they report on select issues. Established news organizations accept
their contributions, which are then broadcast or printed for public consumption.
In the same spirit, banks have allowed their clients to manage their accounts online. Airline
companies also encourage potential passengers to book their tickets online and even choose their
seat. As a matter of fact, could we say that ordinary people with a simple mouse click on their
PC or laptop have become professional airline and banking officers? The answer, undoubtedly, is
No.
However, the same judgment does not apply to citizen journalists. This is because although
people without journalism skills, training and experience can use different tools of modern
technology like mobile phones to report on events, their work is being systematically vetted,
corrected and edited before broadcast or publication.
New technology is constantly empowering people. The availability of various sophisticated
technological devices and platforms is creating a great impact on society. People with varying
levels of education are active on the Internet via social media tools readily accessible with smart
phones and even iPads. Nevertheless, danger awaits them since not everybody is aware that the
use of these devices and tools is being regulated and subject to strict control under the law. Often
in the news we learn that defamatory information has been posted online. Recently in Mauritius,
which is a multiracial and multicultural country, a non-Muslim girl after having been separated
from her Muslim boyfriend, criticized the Ramadan on Facebook. More recently, some nonHindu people on social media posted pictures of naked Hindu Goddesses. These two scandals
became state affairs and considerable effort was required to defuse the tension. Furthermore, in

2011, a young university student announced on Facebook the date he was planning to assassinate
an important political leader. The national security system was on full alert. So modern
technology can do as much good as harm to society.

Citizen Journalists I would rather call them seasonal or circumstantial news gatherers are
those people who have a burning desire to communicate with the rest of the society. We should
agree that they want honestly to film, report and comment on scoops and other news items. This
constitutes a great advantage to news organizations because the more sources we have, the more
news we will be able to disseminate. But how far can we trust citizen journalists? Citizen
journalism has its advantages as well as its drawbacks.
This form of journalism is not new as such. It has existed for centuries in Europe and Asia for
example. When a King was to announce an event, his herald would blow a trumpet while riding
a horse. The communication was made instantly to an assembly of people. It was quite
customary that these people in turn would transmit the news to others through word of mouth.
Finally the communication reached the whole society. In fact, citizens have contributed
significantly to the dissemination of information.
Nowadays, people are still viewing the images of the assassination of former American President
John Fitzgerald Kennedy filmed by Abraham Zapruder, an amateur cameraman in Dallas. We
would also recall that an ordinary citizen named George Holliday, awakened by police sirens,
captured the images of police beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.
More recent major international news has been the legacy of citizen journalism. The British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) acknowledged officially the key role played by people in the
streets in broadcasting main footage during the London bombings by terrorists in July 2005.
Within 6 hours, the BBC Newsroom received more than 1,000 photographs, 20 pieces of
amateur video, 4,000 text messages and 20,000 emails. Obviously, the video images were not of
professional broadcast quality and all information received was not newsworthy, but some of it
was good enough to present to viewers worldwide.
Other masterpieces of citizen journalists would undoubtedly include the pictures and texts
received during the New York terrorist attacks in 2001, the tsunami in South-East Asia in 2004
and more recently during the Arab Spring, the death of former Libyan President, Colonel M.
Gaddafi, as well as the severe earthquakes that struck Haiti, Japan, India and Pakistan.
Furthermore, on 23rd November 1996 in Comoros Islands, tourists who were enjoying
themselves in the blue lagoon sea and on the golden beach of this wonderful island of the Indian
Ocean saw a passenger plane of the Ethiopian Airlines plunge into the sea. The French TV

stations TF1, Antenne 2 and FR 3 were the only channels to broadcast the whole scene thanks to
a lady tourist who captured the scene with her amateur video camera. Finally, all the world
received these tragic images and people learnt that it was a hijacked plane and 125 out of the 175
passengers perished, including the 3 hijackers on board.
These examples illustrate the power and the spontaneity of citizen journalists. They are highly
useful to any news organization. Citizen journalism today allows us even to forecast news
development. The recent gang rape in New Delhi shocked not only people in India, but also the
whole world. The victim, a medical student, was a 23 year old girl. During the first week after
this tragic and barbaric incident, the public wanted to know more about the victim, her
companion who was with her during the attack and also more information on the 6 rapists. The
identity of the victim had to be kept secret under Indian Law. Anybody with some experience in
journalism would know that later or sooner, all of the above information would be known. Only
citizen journalists could help in this endeavor. Why? Because the audience, collectively, knows
more than a single, lone reporter. Effectively, just after one week following the gang rape the
names of the six rapists were published, the profession of the companion was known - a
Software Engineer - the family background of the victim was revealed - elder of a three-child
family and her father is a luggage loader at Delhi Airport and so forth. It would not be a surprise
that the photo of the victim be published soon. This again would be the achievement of citizen
journalists due to their proximity with the community.
So, we would all concur that citizen journalists do contribute to a large extent in the making of
hot news on a regular basis. It would be unwise for any news organization to disregard the role
of citizen journalism. Why? For diverse reasons:
1. News is as important as the air we breathe
2. Availability of many excellent tools to capture live events smart phone, video phone,
tiny digital camera, PSP, iPad, social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube,
Twitter, and Flickr
3. Global distribution of Internet
4. Anybody can set up a home page with the advent of World Wide Web
5. Professional journalists cannot be everywhere anytime. Members of the public are
omnipresent
6. Rapidity and spontaneity
7. Enlargement of civic space
8. Democratization of news gathering and reporting
9. Information has become commoditized
10. Citizen journalism can fill the gap where professional journalists miss events
11. A form of shared values and encouragement of debates to the benefit of news consumers

12. Cutting costs in news companies


However, citizen journalists and citizen journalism are currently exposed to many criticisms.
First and foremost, the terms citizen journalism or citizen journalists might be misused. The
Media is one of the most powerful and influential industries in the world. There is no place for
amateurism in this sector. Journalism is a serious profession where necessary skills, training and
experience are imperative. The fact that todays citizen journalists can do reporting, does this
mean that tomorrow Citizen Doctors will be allowed to cure sick people or that Citizen
Lawyers be allowed to defend people in court? As a matter of fact, it would be more acceptable
to call them as I said earlier seasonal or circumstantial news gatherers, Information Brokers,
News Footage Collectors, or any other similar name.
Professional journalists generally agree that any aspiring journalist holding a University Degree
and who is passionate about the job would take at least 4 to 5 years to affirm himself or herself as
a professional journalist. Together with the academic qualification and with an important
network of people in different sectors, one needs field experience to grow as a responsible and
professional journalist.
Furthermore, compared to professional journalists who have a specific mindset and an
unbeatable or a well-established work culture, it would not be easy for citizen journalists to
observe systematically the fundamental rules of Ethics, Objectivity, Equity, Fairness,
Impartiality and Honesty in their job. These journalistic values are not acquired in one day or one
report. They are cultivated and inculcated through years of work. The problem is that citizen
journalists are not trained to subscribe to the traditional journalistic standards found in many
news organizations.
Lets point out here the honesty of one of the most famous citizen journalist in India. During the
Mumbai Attacks in 2008, a Business Development Manager, Mr. Vinukumar Ranganathan
logged onto Flickr and uploaded the first photographs of the terrorist attacks before professional
photographers entered into action. In spite of this laudable initiative, the blogger told
Wired.Com: I have always been a shutterbug. Would like to be a photojournalist someday.
This is an example of a citizen journalist aspiring to be trained and to acquire the skills needed in
the profession.
Moreover, a hobby is not a profession. Many people today cannot live without new technological
devices like videophones, iPads and portable digital cameras. In many cases, some of them have
become unexpectedly citizen journalists because they were at the right place, at the right time
and with the right tool. After filming an event, they either send it to the press or post it on
internet. They also take the liberty to comment on the event. This is where the danger lies. As

C.P. Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian once said: Comment is free, facts are sacred.
All sort of comments are made online jeopardizing at times social harmony, national security
operations, and court trials amongst others. Citizen journalists very often are not aware that news
content in the press or online content are monitored and regulated. Examples of these situations
have strongly been felt during recent riots in Egypt and Syria and right now in India following
the New Delhi gang rape.
The advent and the concept of citizen journalism may bring us to believe that today there is an
alternative media or a hybrid media. We may be tempted to believe that we are in the golden
age of journalism as mentioned recently by David Carr of the New York Times. These
observations are partly true because professional journalism and the news business in general are
experiencing fundamental changes being brought about by the rapid development in technology,
especially digital technology. Adapt or Perish the motto often proposed in many newsrooms.
Citizen journalists are filling the gap when professional journalists are busy elsewhere. Often,
its the former reporting breaking news more quickly than the latter. One of the more vivid
examples involved Janis Krums, a bystander who snapped a picture of US Airways Flight 1549
crashing into New Yorks Hudson River in 2009.
In the light of what we have been discussing up to now, we can say that citizen journalism
involves both benefits and drawbacks. This form of popular or participatory journalism is being
allowed and encouraged by top TV and radio stations, like CNN and the BBC, and is also very
popular in Asia and Africa. Citizen journalists have succeeded in carving out a role in the media
sector. However, strict control must be exerted on their work.
In fact, there is an urgent need to set up a Code of Ethics for citizen journalists worldwide. Both
professional and citizen journalists must seek a common ground for their joint efforts.
A framework is of utmost importance for untrained and inexperienced new comers in the
profession who want to work sincerely for the positive transformation of societies and for the
advancement of communication. But as George Bernard Shaw said, The problem with
communication... is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

Nanda Armoogum currently works as Director of News at the Mauritius Broadcasting


Corporation (MBC). Armoogum worked at the MBC, the national broadcaster in Mauritius, for
nearly two decades. He served as News Editor, Senior News Editor and Chief Editor at the
MBC, prior to leaving in December 2010 and joining the Independent Broadcasting Authority of

Mauritius as Director of Broadcast Content. Armoogum has also worked as a freelance


journalist for international news organizations.
Armoogum studied Journalism and Communication in England and France. He is also a Law
Graduate from the University of London and holds a Masters in Business Administration from
Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.