Paiwandgah meaning “a place to connect” is Afghanistan’s citizen journalism platform, which has received a facelift and relaunch this month. In an interview with the International Center for Journalists founder [Eileen Guo] (http://www.eileenguo.com/) and managing editor Ruchi Kumar explain why citizen journalism is so important within an emerging democracy. >‘While the media in Afghanistan is extensive and relatively free, a lot of citizen stories, comments and opinions tend to get filtered as noise. These, however, are crucial for a growing democracy. These stories that come directly from the citizens not only provide insight into grassroots realities, but also reveal emerging trends that can have a larger impact’.
Paiwandgah has a database of citizen journalists who have been trained in the use of digital technology, however they also welcome and encourage reporting of local events and opinions from anyone on the ground. Reports are fact checked by an inhouse team where possible but also posted as ‘unverified’ when it is not possible to verify claims. In a country where desktop computers are too expensive to be widely used the main tool of the reporter is a mobile phone; >‘While Internet infrastructure in Afghanistan is still in its early stages of development, mobile phone access is far more predominant. The International Security Assistance Force reports suggest that there are as many as 22 million mobile phone subscribers in Afghanistan. So, Paiwandgah uses this as a leverage and most of our citizens report to us directly via SMS or phone calls. We are currently implementing a mobile-based platform that will make gathering content from our reporters through SMS and voice message much easier. Citizen journalists also use social media, mostly Facebook, to send in their reports. [Recently], Impassion Afghanistan conducted a series of workshops across 10 provinces to train citizen journalists on using social media for reporting.’
Jack Shepherd of Journalism.co.uk has also been reporting on Paiwandgah, and he believes that reporting through mobile devices is become more widespread in developing countries. >‘Empowering citizen journalists through their mobile devices is a growing theme in countries where desktop computers or hard-wired connections may be prohibitively expensive. The most recent project from self-styled ‘communications rights organisation’ On Our Radar saw 36 citizen journalists trained in Nigeria to report on the presidential elections using SMS and WhatsApp, and the BBC has been experimenting with WhatsApp and Line for both sourcing and distributing stories’.