Citizen Journalism at Work

Kimberley Vlasic was one of our student volunteers at the CBA conference. She’s been discussing the impact of social media with one international delegate. Here’s her post:

As a social media volunteer for the CBA, my task was to create a buzz around the event by updating Twitter users on what was happening and initiating debate. By using Twitter we had an extra layer of conversation going on even when a panel was in session or a speaker was at the podium. One international delegate though, has seen how it can go much, much further. Richard Uku from The Commonwealth Secretariat in London believes it can even change society.  I was keen to hear his story. In January 2011, Richard was in Tunisia working for the African Development Bank. “The Arab Spring came about because of social media,” he declares. “Before January 2011, Tunisia was a different place. It was very autocratic, but it was when young people stood up and spoke out, when they went onto the streets in Tunis and other parts of the country calling for change, that’s when things started happening.” According to Richard Uku, the Arab Spring was precipitated by high unemployment, particularly among the young, lack of transparency and government corruption. He told me how Twitter and Facebook were used to organise meetings and peaceful demonstrations as well as track changes in the region. This was citizen journalism at work. “The government tried to clamp down and they used the traditional media to put forward their propaganda,” he said. “But people could see what was happening before their very eyes on the pages of Facebook and on Twitter. It was like a mushroom cloud.” Sixteen months later he’s here in Brisbane discussing emergency, crisis and disaster with broadcasting professionals. “We’ve seen that social media has a place,” he says, “in terms of what people can do, report and learn in emergencies. I think it’s here to stay.”

Posted on May 3rd, 2012 by in Round Up | Leave a comment

More That Unites, Than Divides

Public Service Broadcasters will have left the Brisbane CBA conference with the feeling that there’s more that unites them than divides them. Everyone involved in the sector realises that times are tough financially but all are focused on what matters most: audiences. Brisbane reinforced what we already knew: that at times of crisis, people turn to PSBs. It also reminded us that there’s nothing better than meeting face-to-face. Some broadcasting professionals will have shaken hands for the first time in Brisbane, and new friendships can now develop. Similarly countries within regions have formed new partnerships, alliances and forums out of this conference. People have been sharing information and swapping experiences but it’s been hard to listen at times, because it’s been about life and death scenarios, and coping after trauma.

They’ve been stand-out moments, most of them captured by heart-breaking audio and footage. One broadcaster from Japan even described how his station, NHK, kept on asking themselves after last year’s tsunami, “Could we have done more to save lives?” The audience felt sad and reflective,  but it drove home the relevance of PSBs. You had the sense that those broadcasters who hadn’t been through the kind of traumas experienced in Japan, Thailand, New Zealand and Indonesia for example, were thinking how lucky they were, quickly followed by a key question: “If something like that happened to us, would we be prepared?”

Crisis is an all-encompassing term and so some speakers adapted it to what’s troubling them most at the moment. Joyce Mhaville from ITV Tanzania spoke forcefully. “It’s an open secret that most of the world covers Africa negatively, but there are a lot of positive stories in most African countries,” she said.  Responding to her point, another African delegate alerted colleagues to the skewed relationship that can occur when two well-intentioned PSBs form a partnership, with the poorer one coming off worse, he says.  We could have had an entirely separate session based on their points.

Outside the conference hall we’ve experienced a rich mix of serious moments and some lighter ones. Here’s a taste: a moving Aboriginal blessing performed at our opening ceremony; affectionate words from The Governor of Queensland about the Commonwealth; an ABC foreign correspondent describing her rucksack stuffed with satellite broadcasting gear and undies (“I’ve probably got radioactive knickers,” she said cheerfully); and a former Wallaby rugby star entertaining us with his fantasy rugby team which includes Pope John Paul II, Meat Loaf and Mussolini. To round it off, we took a trip down river to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Along the way we saw tall posts reaching high into the sky, hammered into the muddy river banks. Visible lines at the top of the posts showed us just how high the water rose during the Brisbane floods of 2011. A gentle reminder of why it was a good place to come for our conversations about crisis, disaster and emergency.

Posted on May 2nd, 2012 by in Round Up | Leave a comment

Lacroix’s Canadian Crisis

Mr Hubert Lacroix, President, CBCHubert Lacroix, the President and CEO of CBC in Canada almost apologised when he described Hurricane Igor in 2010. It hit Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada, and was the worst hurricane the population of 500,000 had ever seen with bridges, homes and roads destroyed. Terrible for the community, but as Mr Lacroix kindly acknowledged, it was like a heavy rain shower compared with the devastation that other countries have experienced recently. Still, as we heard repeatedly during the 3 day conference, when it happened Canadians went straight to their Public Service Broadcaster for information. “Telephone lines and electrical grids were down, so people were depending on our radio and Twitter to receive and exchange information” said Mr. Lacroix, “Online we had 600,000 hits to the news landing page that day which is almost what we would get in a typical week.”

Being there for Canadians, even in the most remote and far-flung places,  is at the heart of CBC according to Mr Lacroix, “The biggest promise of public broadcasters is to be there for their citizens: a promise to deliver where others cannot or will not.” But how exactly, when CBC is facing, what its leader is calling, a “financial crisis”? Working with less money (partly due to the global economic downturn which reduced the amount of advertising coming CBC’s way) it meant 800 jobs went in 2009/2010.

As for the future, it looks very tough indeed. “On March 29th our government confirmed that CBC/Radio-Canada  funding would be reduced by $115 million as of the 1st of April, 2014”. Measures to work around this include cutting more jobs, hundreds of them; increasing advertising minutes; introducing ads to some radio networks that have been ad-free; shutting down 620 analogue television transmitters, and discontinuing the shortwave transmission of their international radio service.  “As painful as these decisions are, they need to be made in order for us to move forward and continue to be there for Canadians.” As soon as he finished at the podium, Hubert Lacroix said his goodbyes, grabbed his wheeled suitcase and went straight to the airport to travel home to Montreal. Talks with the Unions couldn’t be delayed any longer.

Posted on April 26th, 2012 by in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snappers and Tweeters

We’ve been trending in Brisbane. If you tweet you already know what I mean. If not, it means that the CBA was one of the most popular twitter topics for the three days of the conference, and we’ve achieved this with the help of six savvy students from The University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology. They’ve been to all our sessions, sending out immediate Twitter messages. Their brief was to create a buzz, and where better to start than from our Opening Reception at the Gallery of Modern Art.  In 140 characters they described the speeches, the dancing and the music. They then went into more serious mode from the conference room, where they succinctly summed up the message of each key-note speaker and panel discussion.

As well as our tweeters we had student photographers on hand, taking pictures of speakers at the podium, but also those more informal moments “off-stage”, when face-to-face conversations lead to lasting friendships and partnerships. You can see a selection on our Flickr page.

So thank you to Mikaela Aitken, Kathryn Louise Geels, Amanda Khoo, Nick Lewis, Kimberley Vlasic and Pak Wayne Yiu. In his blog,  Pak described the days with us as “exhausting, yet fulfilling” even “inspiring”. Amanda said she had “spoken to highly influential and interesting people” and thanked CBA for “trusting me to be a part of the social media team and allowing me to apply the skills I’ve learnt in university. I am now even more excited to graduate in December and embark on a (hopefully) successful career.” We hope so too, and they have our full support.

Posted on April 26th, 2012 by in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Day of Contrasts

Public service broadcasters of every size and shape are here in Brisbane: rich, poor, large, small and everything in between. One plan to deal with emergencies might work for one PSB, but not for others yet all of them agree that getting information out as quickly as possible in times of crisis is crucial. Let’s start off with the BBC: the biggest broadcaster in the world. Peter Horrocks, Director of Global News, kept it simple. “Getting the right information out at the right time saves lives”. He explained that when disaster strikes, it’s not the time to probe: “Don’t worry about asking those tough questions.” Instead concentrate on providing information, he said, and don’t worry about repeating it because someone, somewhere will hear it for the first time.

NHK in Japan has made 2 major changes to the way it operates since last year’s tsunami. Firstly, it doesn’t rely too heavily on weather predictions, and secondly the traditionally calm and dispassionate newsreaders are now trained to deliver a message much more boldly. Rather than advising people politely to leave their homes in an emergency, they’re now getting to the point: “Just run away from tsunami NOW!” NHK’s Yuji Inou said with a sad smile, “I’ve seen my colleagues practise shouting that!” In contrast to Japan’s hi-tech, almost instantaneous tsunami warnings, Tonga’s Nanise Fifita,  described how her small team have to deal with the basics such as making sure their generator is maintained and there’s enough fuel. No BBC-like “gold, silver and bronze” emergency plan for self funded, Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

The reason why professional broadcasters are gathered together in Brisbane really hit home when Radio New Zealand International played an interview recorded in Samoa when a tsunami struck in 2009. A woman described in a quaky voice, sometimes close to tears, how her neighbour was swept out to sea. Although he picked up his baby just in time, they both died. Then her husband grabbed the neighbour’s two remaining children and ran. A wave ripped one of them from his arms, but he managed to throw the other one onto high ground: to just land where it fell.  The child and the woman’s husband survived. They’d made it.

Posted on April 24th, 2012 by in Uncategorized | Leave a comment