Beauty of citizen journalism

Masimba Biriwasha - Ohmynews columnist

As a citizen journalist I don't have to peddle to the economic, ideological or political interests of the proprietors of the enterprise. My primary obligation is to tell the story like it is: that is, to be honest to the truth of the matter.

I believe in the fundamental human right to express myself, but I also strive to be fully accountable and responsible for the way that I express myself. Therefore, I make sure that I put a lot of work into background research and analysis into my work; and always try to look for the untold stories and marginalized voices within the community. With care and excellence, I tell the story to the world, using new technologies, in the process, expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

Obviously, I am aware that truth is negotiable, and arriving at it can be as complicated as trying to walk through a labyrinth. But the shape of the truth always changes depending on the pedestal on which you are located - a pedestal may be coloured by race, culture, sex, class, etc. Overall, mainstream media institutions usually have pre-defined notions of objectivity; therefore they miss telling the story or ignore stories because they are not interesting enough for their pre-conceived readerships.

As a citizen journalist, I feel I do not have many layers of pedestals that I have to think through to present the truth. In other words, I am not aligned to any political, ideological or economic interests that define my perspective. Neither am I constrained by any hegemonic views that dominate today's media or society. I always make conscious effort that my work does not promote the empowerment of certain values to the submersion of others.

The technology that allows for this to happen is critical, and must always undergo transformation to enhance the level and quality of conversation. But equally important are the people that utilize the technology with integrity, passion, and a willingness to share and engage in expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

I guess the experience of living in a context where freedom of both expression and the press is restricted to the political and economic elite makes me highly appreciate the concept of citizen journalism. The citizen's ability to express themselves is the single, most important defining element of a functional democracy. Today's virtual world offers me a chance to exercise that freedom like never before in the history of human beings.

Suffice to state that when a citizen is denied the right to express themselves for political, economic, ideological, race, class or any other reason, the democratic project begins a cancerous march toward collapse. In many societies, violence and civil war is a direct offshoot of a repression of citizens' voices.

However, a citizen's right to express themselves also comes with a responsibility to the rest of society. Given the fact that a citizen does not exist as an island in a vacuum, they have an obligation to express themselves in a way that does not jeopardize society. This is not to mean that they must sacrifice the truth.

Where the truth may jeopardise a given society, it's better to have it in the open rather than sweep it under the carpet where it will gain venomous powers. Simply said, citizen journalism gives me both power and responsibilities, which help me to define and construct my sense of citizenship. However, my sense of citizenship has been broadened because I am not really confined by the physical, political, legal and economic boundaries that the powers-that-be use to restrain freedom of expression in the physical space.

Furthermore, I am free of the dominant ideology in my society. In my writing, I seek the views that spontaneously express themselves but receive little attention from the mainstream media. These are usually the things that happen around me and my community, and the world at large. They maybe commonplace yet they play a critical role in helping me to gain a sense of identity as a citizen of a new world.

Therefore, new information tools not only provide alternative channels of communication, but also open channels to engage in open and frank discussions that promote a new sense of identity and citizenship.

So for me, citizen journalism is all about people joining a dialogue and sharing with the rest of the world about what it means to be a citizen in a world that in many ways seeks to restrict the inalienable human right of freedom of expression.