Interview with a FACT Challenge Winner: Lady Ann Salem from Citizen Patrol

Claire Sale's picture

We recently announced the 5 Winners for the FACT Social Justice Challenge and we are thrilled at the caliber and impact of all the Projects. As such, we want to give you a closer look at these collaborative technology Projects and the people behind them. Each Monday in the month of November, we'll be posting an interview from one of the Winning Projects using the fact interviews tag - we hope you'll follow along!

This week, we're featuring Lady Ann Salem, the driving force behind Citizen Patrol. Citizen Patrol is a tool that allows the urban poor to report on events via SMS or other mobile messages. Based in the Philippines, the aim is to hand journalistic powers to the masses so all stories about urban demolition, hunger, poverty and human rights issues can be reported to a wide audience. The Project also aims to build a network of communities around reporting of problems.

Learn more about Citizen Patrol in the interview below!

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Q. What was the inspiration for your Project?

The advent of new media, electronic media has been an inspiring challenge for independent/alternative videojournalists such as myself. The Philippines is even listed among the tops users of SMS/text messaging, social networking platforms and Internet. So to venture in citizen's journalism and reporting, the first advantage is the people's access and familiarity with the media.

The challenge is to make the people learn it and appreciate that newsmaking and reporting is now also in their hands. And as I have shared in the concept of Citizen Patrol, there are many issues in the National Capital region of the Philippines (while it is also the media capital) that does not see the light of media broadcast. There are various reasons to this - corporate media interests, political interest, people's issues such as hunger, demolition (unless it turns violent) that are not as sensationalized as crime, violence, sex. I have two personal experiences of this just this September 2010--the unified protest of a community fighting a demolition threat that was documented and attended by various television networks but did not land during the actual news program (due to a news blackout by the city mayor) and the news blackout on the illegal termination of media production workers of a giant television network (whose subsidiary also blocked in Youtube our newsreels on the issue).

These are salient issues of social justice and human rights that the public must be made to understand and condemn, lest their minds learn to accept demolitions and illegal termination as normal goings on in a democracy. To inform and educate--that should have been media's role in a democracy. But with prevalent poverty and power and wealth in the hands of a few, the freest press in Asia is not so free after all (and the media do keep mum).

Now, I dare say we can try to democratize media again with citizens journalism efforts such as Citizen Patrol. 

Q. What else are you working on right now?

The group I work with, Tudla Productions, intends to launch a series of press freedom forums (discussion topics include press freedom primer, media labor situation, journalists killing in the Philippines, investigative journalism, right to know, freedom of information, etc.) for students of media, mass communication, communication arts, development communication, language and literature. This target participant/audience are the future media practitioners.

The Student Press Freedom Forum is a campaign and network for awareness and advocacy for press freedom in the Philippines. I believe that it is important to start the culture of vigilance on press freedom and democracy early among people who would inherit the media industry. This is again in line with my work and passion for a responsive, purposive and responsible media and communication and one that actively safeguards our democracy. 

Q. Where do you see your Project in 5 years? What about in 20 years?

The project Citizen Patrol is also borne out of the people's need for an outlet of their issues so I expect that people will easily respond to it, while the concept is new to them. In 5 years,  I see that the project has reached each of the 16 cities and one municipality of the National Capital Region, trained people and gained senior correspondents in each city who can make follow up/full story on the issue reported via Citizen Patrol. I also see that by that time we have modelled this project in some rural regions in the Philippines, whom I personally think has much bigger issues on mis/underrepresentation in media and governance. Mainstream corporate media is entrenched in the culture and daily lives of Filipinos--it is one big challenge to break into this culture.

Twenty years is still hard to project without the lessons of the first few years, but I hope that there is a new media culture by then. 

Q. What help do you need to to get your Project off the ground?

I am looking for funders of the project. The project has a capacity building phase in the grassroots (urban poor communities, workplaces, schools, etc). This involves series of training, and if possible, a transfer of technology (such as release/donation of at least one multimedia message-capable phone or Flip camera in each community or people's organization we can have a memo of understanding).

The project also needs a wide publicity effort so it can be available and the website reporting can be used even by those who has not been reached by the trainings. I see that we'll be needing materials such as volumes of flyers to be given away, stickers that can be posted on houses and other structures, cars, notebooks, etc. 

Q. How can people best follow your progress and/or get involved?

There will be a website constructed for Citizen Patrol. People may upload reports, articles, messages, photos, videos to this website and other people may also comment on these reports. The website may also be viewed by anyone, only that we expect the reports to be in the local language. Translating content to English is something we can consider later on. (For now, the website of Citizen Patrol is just being developed)

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Thanks to Lady Ann for sharing the Citizen Patrol story with us! We look forward to seeing how this tool helps to create real, grassroots change.