Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, Shaw Foundation Professor, Nanyang Technological University and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
When we started thinking about programming Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia to explore new media in the region last fall, I sent frantic emails to friends who work in international human rights independent media. Well, it was more a cry for help, as I was programming this exhibition from half a world away and not moving to Singapore until January. I was anxious.
My colleague and writing collaborator Sam Gregory from Witness, dedicated to collaborative and user generated human rights video and social media, suggested—more accurately, insisted—that we contact EngageMedia, a non profit organization based in Indonesia and Australia working with new media and social justice issues in innovative ways.
Many emails, website searches, and phone calls later, I finally connected to Enrico Aditjondro, from Indonesia, the Southeast Asia Editor for Engage Media. We’ve invited Enrico to present on our panel on human rights and new media at the Open Space exhibition and ICA next week. We’ve also curated the Engage Media site as one of ten featured organizations in our online exhibition. You can visit here: http://www.ica2010.sg/openspace/view.html
Enrico has lived and worked in Indonesia, West Papua, the USA, Australia, and Timor Leste. He started his journalism career in 1998 when he joined The Maritime Workers’ Journal in Sydney, reporting on labor issues and the shipping industry.
Seeking more excitement, he moved to Jakarta and joined the Southeast Asia Press Alliance in 2000. He traveled and worked in Timor Leste with UNESCO and UNTAET. Enrico also campaigned around corruption issues for Transparency International-Indonesia.
In 2005 he was the Southeast Asia Representative for the International News Safety Institute. In the same year he co-founded and became managing editor of Paras Indonesia, one of the country’s leading bilingual social-political website at the time.
Enrico was a fan of EngageMedia before joining the group in May 2009. He is now based in Jakarta, writing, producing films and maintaining the Southeast Asia content for EngageMedia . You can meet him in person next week at ICA 2010 in Singapore.
Patricia Zimmermann: Can you share a little bit about your background and how you initially got involved in EngageMedia?
Enrico Anditjondro:I've been a journalist and media consultant for a little bit more than a decade. I started in texts and photography, and gradually started to use videos and began filmmaking.
From the start, I've been a firm believer that objectivity is a myth, although in reporting, there are principles and ethics to follow. So, when I found EngageMedia.org, I was impressed with its ideas of voicing the voiceless with videos - well produced videos preferably, and became a fan of it immediately.
Later on, as my ideas and struggles are continued to be limited or even obstructed by the mainstream media I was involved in (i.e. I was tired of the ABC News's quest for Islam fundamentalism stories in Indonesia), EngageMedia became even more relevant and decided to join when the opportunity arrived.
PZ:Can you provide a snapshot of the work of Engage, for readers who might not be familiar with your organization? How is Engage similiar and different from other NGOs working in social justice issues?
EA: EngageMedia's flagship is www.engagemedia.org, a video sharing site on social justice and environment issues in Asia Pacific.
In shorter words, we like to think ourselves as YouTube for activists.
Aside from the site, we organize skill sharing workshops on online video distribution strategy, and video archive; video camps; research; and capacity building programs for organizations. We have similarities with Witness and its Hub, but we focus more on already published videos. We urge people more on distribution strategy and better use of videos in social justice and environment campaigns.
PZ: Can you explain how EngageMedia mobilizes the intersections between user-generated content, social and political issues, aggregation, and new technologies/interfaces? What opportunities and challenges has Engage encountered?
EA: EngageMedia chooses to have closer relations with its users.
Our editors frequently talk to users, suggesting ideas, and on the other hand, susses out who would seek technical advice as well requests to promote specific videos.
All of videos in EngageMedia are licensed under Creative Commons also, and the download feature is easily accessible, therefore campaigners and educators who need special videos can search and find videos easily and download them in high quality for their purposes (although still bound by the Creative Commons license conditions chosen by the filmmakers).
And since EngageMedia is run by its own Plumi software, we provide updates to users for new versions or features. One big agenda we have forward is to develop more mobile based technologies in our scope of work.
PZ: What do you see as some of the biggest issues and debates confronting new technology and social justice concerns in Asia and the Pacific?
EA:The fast rise of internet users in Asia and the Pacific is not followed by the equally fast internet infrastructure.
Nowadays, internet-able devices are very common all over but slow bandwidth remains an issue.
In Indonesia, half the new internet users are actually people using mobile devices for social networking applications. This trend is also followed by the overflow of pushed information, and decreases in the quality of reporting accuracy as reporters (and reporter-wannabees) try as fast as they can to post articles.
Facebook status unfortunately became another source of information, and often their inaccuracies have created problems. However, this phenomenon could also become strengths if used tactically. The other issue to be debated is the digital technology revolution which does not favor the marginalized societies who have very little technological access.
PZ: What are some projects and initiatives that you have worked on for Engage that you see as significant or that have had interesting outcomes?
EA:Being the Southeast Asia Editor for EngageMedia gives me the opportunity to watch hundreds of videos produced by filmmakers from the region.
The role also allows me to meet many of them during our Online Video Distribution Strategy Workshop in Singapore and various cities in Indonesia.
More and more filmmakers are now familiar and capable of using online tools for their video distribution and archiving, and slowly, EngageMedia is becoming a source for information and videos for journalists, educators, campaigners and filmmakers looking for inspirations.
PZ:.What are some of the issues that Engage and you confront in relationship to new technologies and on the ground issues and politics?
EA: In areas where government restrictions are prominent, the internet is a very useful alternative for many media makers.
However, in some places, the internet has also become a target for scrutiny - unfortunately this is caused by pornography and social networking applications. Therefore, more discussions about media regulations and cyber-law are needed so that the restrictions can be diverted.
On the other hand, filmmakers and campaigners are often enjoying so many iterations of these technologies that many have forgotten that the people they are fighting for have limited access to it.
The good old transmitter radio still works wonder in many remote places, much more than YouTube-- or even EngageMedia.