Citizen What? Citizen contributions to Rwandan commercial radios

I am sure I am not the only one who would be intrigued by a paper presentation titled “ Citizen Journalism and Democratization of Mainstream Media in Rwanda”. There are many reasons for that: Citizen Journalism in Rwanda? That sounds like interesting as it suggests that finally citizen can freely produce uncensored news about their daily lives, politics, etc. Democratisation of Mainstream Media in Rwanda? This too seems intriguing, as it suggests that those media are currently not democratized, though the democratization process is allegedly underway.

Citizen journalism in Rwanda

During the ICA conference on Monday (13 June) Dr. Michael Prieler (Hallym University, South Korea) presented the paper he co-authored with Dominique Nduhura (PhD candidate in the same institution & School of Journalism and Communication – University of Rwanda), in which they used a rather problematic definition of citizen journalism. They defined it as being the contributions of citizens to mainstream media (in their case, 2 commercial radio stations). These include e-mails to the editor, phone calls, live talk, comments on the radio’s social media pages, etc.

 

In my view, this definition does not really do justice to what citizen journalism as an alternative form of journalism entails. In what they call citizen journalist, the mainstream journalist controls the process and keeps the gate. S/he filters what does not fit the radio’s agenda. And that is the reverse of what citizen journalism is. A citizen journalist collects, interprets, packages and even publishes news items (pictures, articles, podcasts, videos, tweets, etc.) outside their gatekeeping system of mainstream media. Usually, all those steps take place independently, even though the line between citizen journalism and activism is often blurry.

 

I think that user contributions to radio, or any other media, as sources of information, or as live-talk callers or commenters or news, is part of the traditional news model that turns around gatekeeping. If the radio opens a separate channel – the citizen channel– and let the citizens “independently” publish their own news, then that will be genuine citizen journalism. Of course the journalist can help get some of the basics (e.g.: ethics, fact-checking, etc.), but in the end, the citizen should not have to hand over his/her contribution to a journalist who would then have to evaluate it before selecting it or filtering it out.

 

Regarding the democratization of mainstream media, I was really disappointed that nothing was said about this. Perhaps because there is no democratization at all?