The conflict coverage revolution: tech, transparency beyond the Arab Spring

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Technology is playing a pivotal role in media coverage from conflict zones and the these technologies are driving transparency. This in turn is changing the role of media in peacekeeping following this transformation in technology. That’s the general consensus of the role of media coverage in conflict zones panel at the Highway Africa Global Forum for Media Development.

Innovation is moving rapidly
The pace of innovation has never been more rapid than it is now, says Sheldon Himelfarb, a Director at the US Institute of Peace. He believes that technological innovation has allowed for a world where “we are all media makers for a globe audience”.

Himelfarb states that these media makers go beyond the Arab Spring revolutions and include the ability to level the power of civil society through mapping tools such as Ushaidi in Kenya and Libya’s crisis maps. Other examples include the use of crowdsourced data in Haiti where citizens were asked to text their location and situation to a free number, that data was mined by students in the United States and Haitian expats in order provide the right information.

Spreading the right information
The correct information is a big theme when it comes to conflict reporting. Jeanne Bourgualt of the Internews Network reckons that even though tech is good, “we need to make sure it’s what the community needs” when it comes to information distribution.

“We have to make sure the right information is being distributed. We are using technology to disseminate information to the communities so that they can make informed decisions.”

Abeer Saady, Vice Chairman of the Egyptian Press Syndicate says that in Egypt citizens journalists are going into conflict zones putting themselves at risk in order to keep people informed. She believes the coverage that came out of Tahrir Square speaks to what these journalists were willing to do and could do thanks to the technology available to them.

Bourgualt argues that the ability to report in realtime with the aid of social media platforms has allowed for the movement of information which may in time allow for conflict aversion.

Transparency
While the panel agrees that social media and technology is changing our ability to report in realtime in conflict zones, it does caution that there are negative consequences. A prime example of this is the recent use of similar technologies to spread hate speech in India which caused the government to request names from Twitter and threaten to shut down the social network.

The panel believes that more transparency from governments and authorities is key to solving problems likes these.

A.S Panneerselvam of Panos South Asia reckons that organisations such as Wikileaks and social media have pushed the limits and challenged governments and authorities to be more transparent.

“Wikileaks is an important example of the merging of new media and traditional partnerships,” says Panneerselvam. “They take the time to rigorously vet information before publishing and that would never have worked without traditional media partnership which aids such processes.”

Bourgualt agrees that freedom of information is threaten in many countries and that the whistle blowing organisation “is trying to move fast with the freedom of information”.

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