The Global Citizens Movement and the Role of Independent Journalists’

Yousef Alhelou writes:

Media change history, thanks to the power of TV and radio through which people can get the news that they need." This is how David Hoffman began his speech addressing a number of fellow journalists and visiting scholars at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In recent years, a new shape of media has emerged; social media such as twitter and facebook are being used by citizen journalists to disseminate information, as in the case of the Arab spring that swept some countries in the North African region such as Egypt and Tunisia, where local people played an important role in setting the public agenda.

Mr Hoffman elaborated saying that the combination of social media and mainstream media can even be more effective; however, to win the hearts of people aspiring for change, this requires a media strategy and the tools in order to achieve social and political change.

He gave examples of untold stories behind the scenes and major historical events, which are now being covered by local social media activists.

He argued that citizen journalism has changed regimes in some countries, by organizing events, demonstrations and awareness campaigns. Citizen journalists were able to mobilize millions of people in the streets of Cairo who demanded an end to Mubarak's regime as well as former president Morsi of the Muslim brotherhood.

Hoffman gave the example of individuals who could ignite widespread outrage like what happened in Tunisia where people showed sympathy with Buzizi, a vegetable vender in his twenties who set himself on fire after he was humiliated by a policewoman. His story circulated rapidly, igniting an uprising, as social media activists reported that he was suppressed by an oppressive regime which ultimately led to the fall of the regime of Tunisian president Zain Alabedden Ben Ali.

Journalists and social media activists have been at the forefront of protest movement of change for democracy.  This is in part due to the technology and the internet which allow people to reconnect and communicate.

Moreover, media has also played an important role in preventing conflicts between nations and governments.

Hoffman argued that dictators were often faced with what he called the "dictator's dilemma"; on the one hand, an authoritarian ruler may want to liberalise the media in the hope of modernizing the economy, but on the other hand, he does so at his peril.  As he writes in his new book*

When citizens have access to information and the right to speak, but are denied the opportunity to vote, a country is ripe for revolution.

*David Hoffman is the author of 'Citizens Rising: independent journalism and the spread of democracy'.