Digital media - Hype or Hope?
Deutsche Welle played host to this year’s FoME Symposium October 25-26, 2011 in Bonn, Germany. The theme - Hype or Hope, the impact of digital media on journalism and development – was of particular interest as it provided an opportunity to present Freedom Fone as a 2-way communication tool worthy of consideration by media practitioners in the development field.
I was invited to participate with Sean McDonald of FrontlineSMS on a panel entitled Mobile Journalism. We were asked to focus on the opportunities provided by Freedom Fone and FrontlineSMS for sharing and receiving information with/from phone users.
Not surprisingly the importance of mobile phone users as an audience for and contributors of news was underscored by many of the other speakers on the Symposium programme.
Interestingly, a large number of people in the audience indicated by a show of hands that they had never heard of one or both of Freedom Fone and FrontlineSMS. Given the large number of media development professionals in the audience this was a clear indication of how much work needs to be done to build capacity and knowledge around our tools.
For me, the strength of the FoME Symposium lay in 2 areas: its focus on direct, practical support to media workers; and its smaller more intimate format. Most speakers were experienced practitioners with valuable practical advice to share on diverse scenarios and stimulating topics. There were a lot of areas of common interest, leading to productive conversations and opportunities for collaboration.
Keynote presentations by Mark Thompson (Open Society Foundation Media Program) on Mapping Digital Media and Justin Arenstein (Association of Independent Publishers) on Future of Journalism provided a useful backdrop for the presentations and discussions to follow.
Contributions by Victor Gotisan (Moldova) and Roberto Belicanec (Macedonia) from the Mapping Digital Media project reminded me that developing countries exist in Europe. Moldova and Macedonia struggle with many of the access, literacy and poverty challenges that we battle with in the Global South.
Jelena Jovanovic shared the very impressive progress made by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) over the past decade.
Helen Darbishire of Access Info Europe gave one of the best presentations and highlighted how underwhelming some of the world's biggest democracies are when it comes to complying efficiently with requests for information.
A.S. Panneerselvan of PANOS South Asia raised serious concerns about the growing power private corporations have as they consolidate control over what is published across the mobile phone networks they control.
Plenty to think about and explore.