Mobile Journalism Strengthens Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

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Mobile Journalism (MoJo) has not only shaped traditional journalism practices; it has also provided abundant opportunities for journalists around the world to tell emotionally compelling stories more efficiently, conveniently and effectively than ever before. This novel tool has significantly helped journalists in Sri Lanka to shape their careers — causing positive changes in their reporting and storytelling patterns while making them capable of addressing issues affecting peace and reconciliation in the post-conflict setting. 

MediaCorps is an innovative mobile journalism project developed by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), in partnership with the Sri Lanka Development Journalists’ Forum (SDJF) in which journalists and media students who represent different faiths, ethnicities, and linguistic backgrounds come together. These participants are trained in gender- and conflict-sensitive mobile journalism, and are then paired, producing stories about each other’s communities, breaking down cultural barriers. 

After a five-day residential MoJo training and constant mentorship, journalists work in pairs, each matched with a fellow journalist who is culturally, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically different. They live in each other’s settings for 7-10 days, deepening their understanding of issues affecting each other’s communities and building relationships. They ultimately produce a mobile story from each other’s communities, with an emphasis on cross-cultural understanding and diversity, empathy, trust, and confidence, thereby strengthening relationships. This rigorous process is built into MediaCorps in order to help the mobile journalists unmask their own cultural barriers in reporting on a community other than their own. 

Majority of the journalists confirmed that Smartphone has made their life easy and exciting and they are now able to produce compelling stories in significantly less time. Nadeeka a journalist working for Sirasa TV said “the experience of learning MoJo I think will be valid at least for the next ten years. We can produce a highly successful story on a phone we bought spending $150 rather than a digital video camera we bought, spending $15000. We, as reporters, don’t need unnecessary technically old-fashioned equipment but just a smartphone, mike and light would make our life wonderful”. 

Nirasha Piyawadani is an active reporter and former MediaCorps Fellow, and her stories have packed a real punch. One piece, on migrant workers trapped at their work sites by the curfew, unable to get back to their home districts, attracted close to 200,000 views, nearly 5,000 shares, and close to 500 comments on social media. Once the program aired, MediaCorps Watch began getting calls from other groups of trapped workers; Nirasha asked the government about it, and soon the authorities had a plan underway to evacuate those in question. This is a classic case of the watchdog media able to bring real change. 

MoJo made a tremendous change in the career of Sri Lankan Journalists like Nirasha. She explained her experience after being passionate about Mojo “It gave extra energy for me to travel, capture stories of the most marginalized communities, issues faced by trans-genders and estate workers. I challenged political stereotypes against the LGBTQ community. With the motivation I gained, I was able to produce a series of investigative stories following the Easter Sunday attack and prove the innocence of poor families. Previously I used a DSLR camera to produce video and feature photos. I have replaced it with a smartphone. The bigger thing I achieved in my mobile journalism career was to produce 50 news magazine programs on COVID-19. The specialty of the program is that the stories in those 50 programs were fully produced by smartphones. Some of my MoJo stories reached more than 200k audience”. 

It was discovered that a large number of journalists who learned MoJo have become active in addressing various issues affecting peace in Sri Lanka. Several journalists learned moJo producing series of stories focusing on poverty, economic injustice, lack of opportunities for under-privileged and marginalized communities, and issues affecting local industries. They voice the concerns of marginalized communities and address the root causes of conflict and misunderstanding amongst communities.  

The majority of the journalists confirmed that the MediaCorps program has helped them build relationships with people they had never been exposed to because of cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences. The individual interviews conducted by SDJF documented that most of the journalists were able to identify their own cultural barriers and prejudice. The first batch of 25 journalists articulated the change they have experienced in the form of success stories, which confirmed that MediaCorps had enabled them to become responsible journalists with a deep appreciation of cultural sensitivity. 

MediaCorps has also helped them greatly in identifying their own prejudices, cultural barriers and difficulties in maintaining cross-cultural relationships. Several journalists admitted that they had never been exposed to a person from a different linguistic, faith, or ethnic background in their entire career. IREX and SDJF conducted an assessment using IREX’s Most Significant Change Analysis Tool (MSCAT) to capture shifts amongst the journalists in five specific domains:  a) cross-cultural understanding, b) improved understanding and ability to foster diversity, c) enhanced relationships with the people in the host and other communities, d) ability to produce gender- and conflict-sensitive multimedia stories, and e) commitment to facilitate dialogue. This study confirmed that the journalists have experienced, on average a 70% change under each of the domain mentioned above.

About the author

M C Rasmin

Deputy Chief of Party, IREX - Sri Lanka

Rasmin is a prominent Development Communication and Media Development Specialist with over 15 years of experience in transitional and post-conflict settings. He was the Founder of the Sri Lanka Development Journalists Forum (SDJF) where he served as the CEO/Director for 9 years. During this period, he introduced highly effective media and storytelling programs on media and transitional democracy focusing on equality, diversity and other rights-based issues. He also introduced several creative media tools such as mobile journalism, radio drama, participatory video storytelling, forum theatre, and interactive media programs for the same cause. Youth transformation has been one of the most successful areas he worked during his time at SDJF where he trained more than 500 youngsters on the role of creative media for promoting pluralistic values and peacebuilding. Those trained are now having a visible presence in the public sphere using the diverse media tools they learnt.

In 2017, Rasmin joined IREX- Sri Lanka Mission, as the Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP) to drive its mission-led Media Development Program for Sri Lanka. He oversees the media development project which has a specific focus on media policy reformation, media and digitalisation, media and business development, media research, media and Information literacy and conflict/gender sensitive storytelling.