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Citizen journalism is a moral responsibility

120822_06

As technology develops, our world is getting smaller. News from one continent to the other can be passed on in seconds.

In the past, getting news took months. The news agenda was set by professional journalists. But now, everyone who knows how to write and take photos can be a citizen journalist. But what is a citizen journalist and what do they do for society?

Keo Chan Sopheap is a university student who posts many pictures to her Facebook page and writes about them – does that make her a journalist? “Personally, I love taking photos. I’m always taking photos everywhere I go, as well as writing down words that show my opinion on them,” she said.

The established media makes use of people like Keo Chan Sopheap to make news reports and radio shows. Pen Samithy, editor in chief of Rasmey Kampuchea newspaper, says that ABC Cambodia is a great example of a citizen journalist talk show.

Its makers use networks of people around the Kingdom to collect news - not professional journalists. “The advantage of making this show is that we get news quickly and transparently, which is rare among other media sources," said Samithy.

Businesswoman Leng Ni Mol listens to ABC everyday. She said: “When I listened to ABC, I was told that there was a traffic accident along the way to a province. A moment later, I heard that someone was arrested because of the show. It’s not just accidents, but other issues like people who lose their children, or find an unidentified child – they can announce it on the radio. Citizen journalists can have a very positive impact in their countries.”

Professional journalists are not able to be everywhere, and locals can report the news faster. But how effective and accurate are the reports from citizen journalists? And what challenges do they face?

Samithy says that citizen journalism is a new, exciting concept for Cambodia but there are some drawbacks. “There are not many people who completely understand it yet.” But there are some limitations”, she added.

Citizen journalists have no training on how to report news accurately. There are also legal obstacles – there is nothing stopping people reporting unethically, or libeling others.

Lots of people post pictures and share news on social media unaware that their actions could have legal consequences. Siv Meng, who uses Facebook in this way, said: “I just post and share news that I find interesting and useful. I post it publicly on my wall but I have no idea that I could face trial because of it.”

Professional journalists can be punished for illegal behaviour by the Ministry of Information but there is no law that covers citizen journalists yet. Still, citizen journalists may fall foul of other criminal laws, according to Samithy.

LIFT suggests that the citizen journalist should clearly and publicly identify himself. Those who like to post on Facebook or other social media networks to comment and critique should do so on group pages but not in public, in case it causes problem for the writer or the person he criticizes.

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