People's media in advocacy work

People can document and report human rights abuses (police or army brutality, for example) or civil disturbances using SMS, photos, audio or video. Photographic evidence can be particularly useful if peaceful demonstrations are violently broken up by the authorities. In Egypt, systematic torture in prisons was captured on mobile phones (see Exposing police torture with mobile phone video). During political crises, mobile phones may be the only way of reporting what is going on to the outside world. In Burma where the media are controlled by the state and heavily censored, reports about the 2007 pro-democracy protests were filed using mobile phones.

Gathering evidence

Photos taken on mobile phones can document crimes and abuses, which may be useful in their prosecution.

Reporting damage to the environment

Members of the public can send reports of events such as oil spills, flooding, forest fires or pollution, and submit photographic evidence for analysis or scrutiny.

Raising awareness of a plight or cause

Local groups or individuals can take photographs and make video and sound recordings to inform the wider public about a local or national issue (violence against women in South Africa or ‘slum’ clearance in Zimbabwe, for example). This material can be collected by a co-ordinating NGO and used as part of a wider publicity campaign or sent to traditional media outlets such as television channels and newspapers. Activists from the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia submitted photos from their campaign to the commercial camera phone picture agency Scoopt to raise the profile of their campaign to protect the Sumatran tiger.

General reporting and education

Technology can help promote cultural awareness. People and groups can create reports about their day-to-day lives and ideas and make them available to a worldwide public. This kind of information helps their supporters, and others, to understand what life is like for people far from themselves. Mobile phone cameras are ideal for filming in everyday contexts without being too intrusive. On the website Zexe, marginalised communities such as Roma people, wheelchair users and motorcycle messengers use mobile phone images to share their views and experiences.

Broadening the global news agenda

People's media can provide a channel for supporters of civil society the world over to bring attention to the events, causes and problems that matter to them. Stories which have been ignored by the traditional media can now find a place in a more open and inclusive news arena, and become available to the traditional media as well. Mobile phone cameras are often able to capture footage in situations where conventional film equipment and news teams do not have access. Advocates can send such material to national and international news channels for broadcast.

As part of the Voices of Africa project, reporters in Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa were hired to master mobile technology and to get experience in updating a news website with text, photos and videos. Some of the most striking images captured by the reporters were those of post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. 

Creating a media channel

Creating a dedicated, mobile friendly version of your organisation's website can be a way of broadening the reach of your message. Accessing the internet on a mobile phone is becoming increasingly popular as data rates decrease in costs and more phones are equipped with wifi connections. The Sri Lankan peacebuilding initiative Groundviews have created a mobile version of their citizen journalism site so that people are able to access it on the move. A mobile version of independent news media site Indymedia has been created to broaden the reach of this content.

In situations where there is censorship of the news media SMS can be an invaluable way of getting information out. In Zimbabwe the radio station SW Radio Africa started sending out news headlines via SMS when their signal was jammed by the authorities.