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After reading about Mediated on Groundviews, I simply had to go to the Sasika Fernando Gallery and see it for myself, even though all of the information was available on their site. The exhibition is brilliant. I have been a fan of visualizing data for the past few years, and while I have experimented a bit, this exhibition reaches new levels of awesome. The marriage of solid research and acclaimed artists has resulted in a baby that is like baby superman, but cuter.

It is worth the trip to actually see the exhibits live – Ameena Hussein’s piece is a sculpture covered in loudly ticking bulbs and there are magnifying glasses for Mika Tennekone’s painting. There is also a wireless headset but I have no idea what it was for. It might have actually been the property of the girl sitting at the computer, and if it was I apologize for fiddling with it. That is the peril of modern art for you..

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Citizen Journalism can be a wonderful thing. It has tremendous potential for bringing to the fore ground news that would otherwise pass under the radar of mainstream media. It does not (usually) suffer the political and financial pressures that mainstream media have and it does not have to maintain a profit margin. Citizen Journalism brings out news that we find interesting and relevant and is a very good indicator of public opinion. Usually.

I for one have always been in favour of Citizen Journalists. Most of us on Kottu have our own posts on politics, human interest stories, reviews, opinions and the usual rants. We are Citizen Journalists in some form of the other, and we find that this works out well for us. But can the same disease that infects Tabloids affect us? Can the need to have the first picture, get the first blog post out, tell the first story, actually make us stretch our morals a bit? Does it damage our sense of human dignity?

I was reading an article by Paul Carr this week. He usually writes semi-satirical Tech related articles at TechCrunch, but his post this week (which has already received over 200 comments) was unusually thought provoking. He starts of with the incident at Fort Hood and then points out how at this very serious and very upsetting time, a lady was snapping pictures with the iPhone and tweeting minute by minute her opinions on what was happening. Perhaps you might say that there was nothing wrong with this, and that this is what citizen journalists do. At such a serious juncture and such a traumatic event, things would be on lock down and information would be restricted until the situation was stabilized. No one would want a woman snapping pictures of injured soldiers in a hospital and tweeting irresponsible messages to the public when even family members of the injured soldiers were not informed. Reactions to her actions were mixed, with people unhappy that she would be snapping pictures in a hospital.

One commenter even stated:

If I ever saw you taking pictures of my friends being wheeled into the hospital, I’d beat you senseless.

The lady’s (Ms. Moore) twitter account is no longer functioning but you can access her tweets here and judge her actions by yourself.

Carr also states in his article that :

the ‘real time web’ is turning all of us into inhuman egotists. How we’re increasingly seeing people at the scene of major accidents grabbing their cellphones to capture the dramatic events and share them with their friends, rather than calling 911.

Her behaviour had nothing to do with getting the word out; it wasn’t about preventing harm to others, but rather a simple case of – as I said two weeks ago – “look at me looking at this.”

Do you recall the video of Neda Agha Soltan that rocked the world and dragged the violence of the Iran protests into the forefront? Now can you imagine it from her point of view as she lay dying, all she could see were some faces and a camera pointed at her face.

While the concepts of citizens being journalists is wonderfully empowering, how far do we let that empowerment stretch our moral codes, our basic human decency. Do we rush to electronically capture a tragic moment? Is our first thought to help, or to record.

I am not saying that Citizen Journalism is bad or should be avoided. The drowning of a handicapped man in Bambalapitiya would never have come to our attention if it wasn’t for the video taken by a camera man on a roof top, but did the camera man bother to alert authorities while this was going on, or did he simply record the entire event for a sensational news cast?

I am not calling for censorship, or restriction, or any curtaining of freedom. Far from it. We have the technology now to make huge social advances, to empower people who would otherwise not have a voice, but we should not forget about our dignity and our responsibility.

Remember, your fellow man first, everything else comes later.

Amnesty International (AI) has expressed serious concern over the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka as they continue to face threats at the hands of government forces and armed groups including the LTTE and the Karuna faction.

Journalists are not having an easy ride these days, though it could be argued that they never do have an easy ride.

From the arrest of Parameshwary to the confiscation of her papers to the assault on Tamil journalist Palamohan and the mugging of K. C. Saranga journalistic profession is taking its share of abuse.

But at least no sniper is taking shots at them (as far as I know).

A Palestinian cameraman was shot by an Israeli sniper while filming clashes between soldiers and militants. An Israeli army spokesperson says:

journalists were at risk if they entered a combat zone but soldiers did not deliberately target them.

The video from Reuters can be watched here (viewer discretion advised). It looks pretty deliberate to me. Israelis are not known for being gentle.

Journalists must have a heck of a time finding insurance.

While watching CNN this morning, I happened to see a certain news story about a car-jacking, caught on tape, where what appears to be an African American man repeatedly punches a 91 year old man in the face in an effort to get his keys and his car.. What is surprising is not that this incident happened, but that there were about six able bodied people a few meters away, who did absolutely nothing while this was happening.

I have often wondered what I would do if I was in a situation that called for intervention. It is not easy to be truthful with oneself in this regard. I would want to believe that I would intervene, but being a non-confrontational person myself, I know I would hesitate. If an incident were happening and there weren’t any people close, I would probably poke my nose in. But if there were a large number of bystanders around, I definitely would think thrice about getting involved. For one, I would not be sure about what was happening, and the fact that no one else was acting would make me hesitate to make a fool out of myself. And that is a terrible thing to do. Though I am quite sure, if I saw a 91 year old man punched up by a young male, I would do something.

This behaviour is called the Bystander Effect or the Genovese Effect. It states that:

The larger the group or the more people that are present during the emergency, the less likely it is that anyone will render assistance.

I find this quite disturbing and quite true. The more people around, the less i feel like intervening.

I wonder how this situation would have played itself out in Sri Lanka. I feel that people here are far more involved with each other. Nosy would be another way to describe it. Whether it be in the village, at a shop or in the bus, you’d find a few strangers interacting with each other, chatting or complaining. People here (trying not to generalize) feel less inhibited to poke their fingers. I used to find that annoying, but now I feel that its quite useful in a way. You will at least find one person to lend a helping hand.

If you ever end up being a bystander and are not sure whether to act, follow these simple steps:

    • Notice something is happening
    • Interpret the situation as an emergency
    • Assume personal responsibility
    • Choose a form of assistance
    • Implement assistance

And if ever you are in a situation where you need help,

 

Talk to people directly. Make eye contact. If possible, use people’s names; if not, point. Tell exactly which people to do what. Do not yell indiscreetly for help but do let people know that it is an emergency situation.

It doesn’t hurt to be a good Samaritan.

 

 

 

A teenage girl was abducted yesterday, and is currently being held for ransom.

An unidentified gang which kidnapped a 15-year-old daughter of a millionaire Tamil businessman in Negombo yesterday is demanding a ransom of Rs.4 million for her release, police said.

I am not going to make any speculations as to who did it, or if a white van was used. That is not what bothered me. Now I do feel extremely sorry for the girl. It must be a terrible ordeal for her. And i also wonder why on earth the elder brother escaped and left his younger sister alone with the kidnappers! I would never leave my sister and run away even if a chance presented itself. But what irritated me even more was this statement in the Daily Mirror:

Negombo police Inspector D. W. Silva said they had already deployed a special team to track down the suspects.

This is a kidnapping for ransom of a little girl. It is traumatic enough for her. The kidnappers are nervous enough already. The situation is already volatile. What logic, what commonsense, what sort of misplaced, misguided thinking would prompt the inspector to tell the media that he has deployed a special team, and why would the journalist get it published. Are they trying to show that public that they have a ‘special team’? Do they want the kidnappers to know that there is a ‘special team’ after them? Do they want to make the kidnappers nervous, and scare them into cutting their losses, killing the girl, dumping her body some where and vanishing without a trace?

A situation which requires the utmost tact is treated so callously. The word ‘fool’ pops into my mind along with a lot of other words. In caps. And in bold.

I read a report titled Media Coverage of Acts of Terrorism which had a few examples of irresponsible media behaviour.

There have been cases in which hostages were endangered or killed because of the urge for journalistic scoops. During the 45 days of the kidnapping of Hanns Martin Shleyer in 1997 the German media refused, on the whole, to co-operate with the terrorists and instead abided by the authorities’ directives. They went to the undersired extreme of not reporting any developments in this tragic affair. At the same time, there were some breaches of this news blackout. ‘Der Stern’ magazine, in its September 19, 1977, edition, reported that the government remained firm in its decision not to succumb to the terrorists’ demands, and that it was to have entered into mock negotiations to play for time. This report could have endangered the life of Schleyer. When the kidnappers saw that the government was unwilling to negotiate, they approached Schleyer’s son, who was ready to pay $15 million for the release of his father. The German news agency DPA revealed this and also mentioned the time and place of the transaction. Hundreds of journalists flooded the Hotel Intercontinental in Frankfurt. The terrorists, of course, could not carry out the deal. Four days later, Schleyer’s body was found. (Horchern, 1987)

You could take the 1972 Olympics incident as another example. As the German police prepared to storm the building, the East German television broadcast the whole incident live, showing the police making preparations, and each room had a television. It was lucky that they called the assault off.

The whole point of media, should not be to simply grab the biggest scoop, or to see who can shovel dirt faster. Don’t get me wrong, I think free media is absolutely essential to a democracy. But a certain accountability is necessary. Temper that with a bit of common sense and a pinch of sympathy, and we’d all have an easier time.

Every weekday morning, I grab the Daily Mirror, sit down in the kitchen, eat my breakfast and try to keep up with the rate at which this country is making a mess of things. I read the front page and as far into the paper as I can before i get sick of it, and then quickly switch over to the comic strips before I lose my sanity. The articles I come across usually are as filling as a puff pastry without stuffing, and as satisfying as biting into a fortune cookie, and then finding out that there is no little strip of paper telling me that it is going to be my lucky day.

There are words used in these articles which i believe should be banned from media vocabulary. They are words like ‘concerned’, ‘vowed’, ‘pledges’, ‘insists’, ‘urges’, ‘reiterates’, ‘supports’ and my all-time favourite, ‘remains committed’. These are words that have all the flamboyance of a peacock and all the thrust of a slug. They are the type of words that say, “I believe something should be done, but it’s not I who will get my hands dirty”.

The UNICEF is concerned about the recruitment of child soldiers. Well, so am I. But that still doesn’t change the fact that it still happens.

Mr. Rambukwella seems upset by the fact that we had relative peace during the first three and a half year period of the CFA.

The US continues to insist that there is no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Wonder where they got that idea from. Iraq maybe?  While China backs our ‘fight’ against terrorism. Ah! the irony of strong, strong verbal support in this oh so righteous fight against evil.

Mr. Sripathi vows never to accept a portfolio under this President. Reminds me of some else who was not going to return, that is until he seemed to have a change of heart.

But my favourite is the fact that our Government is still committed to peace, and the intact (intact?) CFA. I mean, no matter how much land they have ‘liberated’ and how many LTTE camps they have over run, it is all OK if they are still committed to peace, and still hold on to the CFA right?

And so it goes on, every morning. Meaningless words, rhetoric, a form of diplomacy only used to avoid circumstance, and a healthy dose of  bull excrement. One of these days, my sanity is going to run away, taking my brain with it. Kind of like the way the JVPer ran away with the mace of the House during parliament.