Student projects on citizen journalism in Iraq and Serbia

Bournemouth University is a partner of the annual Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, a unique three-week program on media literacy and engaged global citizenship for university faculty and undergraduate and graduate students from around the world. Every year staff and students from across the Media School participate in the Academy. Jenny Palmer and Douglas Tham, two of this year’s graduates, reflect on their experience and the projects they worked on.

Jenny Palmer

During my time at the academy I worked as part of the human rights group to develop a citizen journalism initiative for university students in Iraq. Media coverage of youth is lacking in Iraq, meaning that a vast majority of voices go unheard. Internet searches on Iraq yields an overwhelming amount of coverage on conflict and tragedy but what we don’t see is the positive side of living as a young Iraqi citizen. In order to alleviate some of this negative attention, we wanted to provide the Iraqi youth with the tools to become informed citizen journalists, as well as promote positive aspects of living in Iraq. We created a web platform on WordPress called Souwarna – Arabic for ‘our images’, for students to upload an original image and a news story to one of the content areas. Users would fill out a template for the news story consisting of the five W’s – what happened, who was involved, when it occurred, where it occurred, and why it happened. They can also add their own hashtags. 

Screenshot of http://souwarna.wordpress.com/

Screenshot of Souwarna

The main objective of Souwarna is to counter traditional aspects of conflict journalism with positive cultural stories of Iraqi youth; building citizen involvement to empower and refocus attention of the communities in Iraq. Positive engagement of the youth may build common ground for the citizens and communities to overcome sectarian issues threatening the lives of the Iraqi people whilst raising awareness of freedom of expression as a human right.

I really enjoyed working on this project, although it proved to be a challenge as initially we did not have much knowledge about the media landscape in Iraq. We began by conducting research and soon learnt that stories featured in the Iraqi press are often misrepresented, biased and/or inaccurate. Recently the government has placed restrictions on 3G penetration in Iraq meaning that it is often unreliable so we decided to create a web platform as opposed to a mobile application. It was very rewarding to get positive feedback from the UNDP officer in Iraq throughout the development of our project because it made us feel as though we had the power to instigate real change in a developing country which has been torn apart by violence and conflict.

The academy as a whole has taught me to be more aware of other perspectives and to interact with people from different countries and backgrounds in order to develop a greater understanding of other cultures, particularly in developing countries. If you have more knowledge of other cultures, it becomes a very powerful tool to initiate real change in places that need it the most. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone – there were times when I felt wildly out of mine. I know it’s a cliché but it’s such an important lesson and you never know where it might lead you!

Douglas Tham

The Salzburg Academy Seminar was an amazing experience. Getting to attend the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change: Civic Voices – Justice, Rights and Social Change was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am grateful to have been one of the participants.

Studying BA (Hons) Politics and Media, the Academy was relevant to my studies and also my future career. I really enjoyed doing a project for the UNDP, and being able to work with very aspirational students from around the world.

All the project topics that were available to choose from were very interesting, and what peaked my interest the most was Governance, Corruption and Elections. I was very lucky to get my choice, and in no time we had to delve into our projects. Our group were very lucky to be contacted by a representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and were asked to work on three specific countries where they viewed our projects to have potential.

We were given a choice of working on a campaign, game or platform. UNDP country offices in Moldova, Serbia, and Armenia have partnered on an international effort to reduce corruption across sectors. Called Youth Bridge, it is conceived as a platform for anti-corruption programs in all three countries, targeted specifically at youth between the ages of 15-24. We were tasked with creating specific ideas and processes that could contribute to the Youth Bridge platform. Our group worked on the campaign #WORKFORIT, which is an initiative promoting dedication and hard work in pursuing individual aspirations as opposed to taking the easy route through bribery and cheating. The initiative consists mainly on an online contest aimed to aggregate user-generated videos –30 to 60 sec – in which people across Serbia can describe their future aspirations or life dreams and how they will achieve them.

The seminar was an incredible experience, not only because of the chance in being in Salzburg, but also the opportunity to meet like-minded people, and see different cultures. I would recommend everyone who has the chance to apply the coming year, to do so! It is something nothing can emulate, and the experience is once in a lifetime, with lifetime friends.

We created a mock up video for the competition, as well as a pitch video for the UNDP.