Video as Evidence: Turning Citizen Video into Justice

Citizen video rarely meets the high bar set for video as evidence. A new guide from WITNESS aims to help.

Voices of Dignity: A Story of Struggle for Women’s and Victims’ Rights

Yoladis Zúñiga and Petronila Mendoza survived an attack of right-wing paramilitaries on their villages, in which women and girls were raped, homes burned and a number of people killed, including their husbands.

Dam-Affected Communities in Mexico Take Government to Peoples’ Tribunal

On November 5-6, many of our local partners fighting forced evictions in Mexico will travel to the small town of Temacapulín, in Jalisco state, to tell their stories to an international panel of judges representing the Mexico chapter of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT).

Join WITNESS For An Online Dialogue On Archiving Human Rights

I’m excited to announce that starting today (May 16) through May 22 my fellow archivist Yvonne Ng and I will be co-hosting an online dialogue hosted by New Tactics in Human Rights titled Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice and Memory.

How To Film Protests: Video Tip Series for Activists at Occupy Wall Street, in Syria and Beyond

The thousands of human rights-related videos being created and shared – from raw documentation of human rights violations in Syria to the Occupy protests and the range of police abuse and misconduct therein – illuminate the role that citizen video is playing to not only inform us but also to motivate us to take action.

أفضل الممارسات: توثيق الإصابات والجرحى

هذه المدونة هي الأولى في سلسلة من المدونات في اللغة العربية تهدف إلى تبادل ما لدينا من المواد التدريبية مع الجمهور المتحدث باللغة العربية – انظر إلى المدونة الأساسية فيأفضل ممارسات الفيديو من أجل التغيير , موجود أيضا في اللغة الإنجليزية. يرجى توزيع الممارسات مع الشبكات الخاصة بك و يرجى مساعدتكم على تطويرها من خلال ترك تعليقاتك في هذه المدونة أو بطريقة ارسال لنا عن طريق التويتر إلى:٠

New Video for Change Best Practices Series

Since the start of the Arab Spring, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in how activists are using video to impact change in their communities.

أفضل ممارسات الفيديو من أجل التغيير

.هذه هي التدوينة الأولى من سلسلة تدويناتنا التي تعرض أفضل ممارسات الفيديو من أجل التغيير

Elections in Egypt and the DRC: Hope for A Better Future

Today is very special to the African continent with two major election days taking place in Egypt and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In these two big African countries, WITNESS has two very active campaigns.

2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Featured in WITNESS Award-Winning Documentary

We were very happy to hear about the three newest recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tawakkul Karman, and Leymah Gbowee. We extend congratulations to them all.

Gender Justice Activists Integrate Video for Advocacy

As I’m writing from a buzzing room in Nairobi, Kenya, there are five groups of women’s rights activists editing interviews that they’ve conducted as part of a ten-day video advocacy training. Through WITNESS’ new partnership with Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, this is the second comprehensive training that we’ve conducted (see a video report from our first training with a group from Northern Uganda) to support a push for an end to gender-based violence.

Presumed Guilty: Documentary Puts Mexican Legal System on Trial

Toño Zúñiga was just your average aspiring rapper and break dancer who made a living running a small electronics repair stand.

Archival access: ethics, rights, obligations

Access is a primary archival value, driven by many things: legal or organizational mandates, copyright, available technology and resources, a deep-seated belief that access to information is the foundation of a free and educated society, and, in fact, a right. With human rights materials the challenges are particularly acute, sometimes pitting personal safety, security and privacy against advocacy goals and the right to know. At WITNESS we are particularly focused on this question at the moment, as we contemplate broader online access, the ethics of video remix, expectations of openness underpinning archival and human rights values, and active engagement in the online sphere.

Selectivity, rigorous understanding of safety and security implications, good documentation, informed consent, sensitivity to the variety of cultural and personal norms regarding privacy; these are key. Within these parameters we provide access to others selectively, based on purpose and ability to pay. This is good as far as it goes, but what if any are our broader obligations? to the subjects depicted? the creators? to researchers, human rights defenders, legal entities, journalists and issue-oriented documentarians, both now and in the unknown future? There is an increasing articulation of the obligation of states and governments to preserve and provide access to guarantee accountability, the rights of citizens, of collective memory and a knowledge of the past. As archivists of private NGOs do we have the same obligations, if not from a legal standpoint from a moral and ethical one?

I am still working my way through Rand Jimerson’s excellent Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice (2009: SAA). It is a wide-ranging book encompassing the history of archival theory and practice in societal terms, addressing the relationship of archives and documents to memory, justice, accountability, diversity, and societal power.

Jimerson, a strong proponent of what Verne Harris has deemed “archives for justice,” acknowledges that private archives – those of corporations, or organizations such as WITNESS for that matter – are not legally or perhaps ethically under the same obligations as those with public access mandates; archivists working in private entities may thus be harder pressed to justify access to outside researchers, or the inclusion of diverse voices. But, he asserts, all archivists should be broadening their conceptions of professional ethics to encompass and be informed by values of social justice, accountability, and public responsibility, even when their options to contribute may be limited.

And here from a different perspective, that of documentary filmmaking and media literacy, some thoughts on the ethics and pragmatics of archival access. Rick Prelinger had this to say on his blog back in June (and worth reading the entire post + comments):

“Let’s put original, unedited archival material out in the world in such a way that it competes with documentaries. This isn’t going to kill our stock footage income, because producers and directors always feel they can improve on reality by imposing structures of their design, and they’ll still come around. But it will insure that audiences can see original documents without the imposition of artificial layers of narrativity. (Plus, I have always wondered how archives can ethically let historical mediamakers use clips without making the original works from which the clips come available to anyone who wants to see the complete continuity. When someone cites a passage of text or a still image, there’s a powerful implication that someone can check the citation themselves. We don’t make this easy.)”

Sheila Curran Bernard, filmmaker and author of Documentary Storytelling and Archival Storytelling, and a consultant on the Center for Social Media’s new report on ethics in documentary filmmaking, commented in response:

“I think the lack of resources for quality storytelling stems from a greater problem: weak documentary literacy. To explain: Most people can walk into a bookstore and distinguish between the quality, purpose, rigor, and craft of books and other print materials. Readers can differentiate between a Pulitzer Prize-winning history and an illustrated Time-Life offering on the same topic, and between The New Yorker and National Enquirer. They understand that both Sean Smith (Britney: The Unauthorized Biography…) and David McCullough (John Adams) have used the tools of storytelling, but quite differently.”

“Anecdotally, documentary film viewers are not as discerning. They recognize common storytelling devices – interviews, narration, recreations – but not key differences in how and why (and how effectively) these devices are created and employed. Archival use is accepted as a documentary convention, but how materials are used, whether specifically or generically, whether it’s been manipulated, etc., is too rarely part of the discussion. This lack of literacy is especially significant when it involves educators, gatekeepers, policymakers, philanthropists, and even film subjects. If people don’t understand the differences, they’re not likely to support projects that take greater financial, creative, or programming risks – and so we get more of the same: faster and cheaper. It’s as if the bookstore is filling with works about celebrities and haunted houses, but new and innovative works of creative nonfiction, well-crafted historical narratives, rigorous and up-to-date science or public policy materials, are appearing with less and less frequency.

Not only would be terrific to “put original, unedited archival material out in the world” – it would also be a chance to compare the story and storytelling choices made by media makers in days past.”

October is American Archives Month…

10 things to read/do/think about:

1. Read Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective by Verne Harris.

2. Check out this upcoming NY Archivists Roundtable workshop: Digital Asset Management and Institutional Repositories: Case Studies Addressing the Development and Implementation of Systems. November 10, 2008. One of the presenters is David Rice, Channel 13′s Digital Archivist. Dave is a key member of the Media Archive team, having worked with us for several years as our ace Filemaker database programmer.

3. Participate in Home Movie Day: October 18, 2008 at over a hundred locations throughout the US and the world.

4. Donate to the National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives. Established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by SAA and the Society of Southwestern Archives, the scope has expanded to offer assistance to repositories regardless of region or type.

5. Submit a proposal for 7th Orphan Film Symposium, to be held at the NAVCC in Culpeper, VA April 7 – 10, 2010. The focus is on global and transnational issues.

6. Read Archival Storytelling: A Filmmakers Guide to Finding, Using and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music by Sheila Curran Bernard and Kenn Rabin (2009, Focal Press). Just published.

7. Donate footage: WITNESS is actively seeking collections of footage relating to human rights and social justice. Click here for our donor guidelines.

8. Check out The Living Room Candidate, an online exhibition of political ads (1952-2008) at the Museum of the Moving Image.

9. Celebrate the 2nd UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage on October 27.

10. Go to the Hub; upload a video, find a campaign or issue you care about. The Hub, a project of WITNESS, is the world’s first global video-sharing site/channel/community devoted to human rights. The top issue covered so far? freedom of information and expression.

SAA2008: Meaning, Justice and John Dean

I started the day with “What, Why, How? Archival Meaning in a R/Evolutionary Age” which featured three excellent papers exploring meaning, purpose and collective identity for archivists. I especially liked Scott Cline’s paper which explored what he called “archival being” the core values of which are faith, radical self-understanding, intention, and integrity; and illustrated via one of Martin Buber’s Hasidic parables, and quotes and thinking from Abraham Joshua Heschel, among others. He called archives/archiving a “faith-based profession,” calling to mind Verne Harris’s assertion that as archivists “we find ourselves in a terrain that is about belief rather than analysis.”

A bit later, the Global Issues Forum picked up on some of the same themes, especially the premise that archives must be recognized as loci of political power (Derrida: “There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory.”) The framework was the Key Propositions and Questions that emerged from the 2005 Memory for Justice colloquium at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It’s an important document, summarizing and synthesizing key themes in the emerging discourse around social justice and archives. In this framework archives:

  • are sites of ambiguity over clarity, where meaning is contested and fluid;
  • acknowledge the political forces that are ever present and shape and influence scope, content, and policies;
  • can no longer retreat to a position of supposed neutrality;
  • can be agents of change and restorative justice;
  • should be mindful of which voices are privileged and which marginalized, through practices of selection, appraisal, description and access;
  • are sites of power in how they shape and construct memory and history

Because I’m an archivist working with collections which are explicitly advocacy-oriented, I was very curious to hear responses from a wider array of archivists. I was a little disappointed in the open forum that there wasn’t more…I don’t know, concrete experiences from other contexts, opinions, pushback? I would also like to hear more about the paradox, in the Colloquium document and alluded to by David Wallace, that archivists are both powerful in their ability to construct memory, but relatively weak in social and political terms. (Do most archivists perceive themselves as wielders of power? ) Panelist Anthea Josias (at U Mich, formerly at the Mandela Foundation), spoke of the need to foreground archives as societal forces, and to more actively engage communities through their active participation.

I was disappointed that Verne Harris was unable to appear on the panel, as had originally been planned. But the speakers all had interesting perspectives, and I really appreciate Rand Jimerson for facilitating these conversations, and for promoting a new conceptual framework for archival ethics (which he spoke on at the session this morning).

John Dean was a great keynote speaker, funny, extemporaneous, flattered his audience, knew who his audience was, unabashedly political (are there republican archivists? there must be, right?). He spoke about the politicization of the presidential libraries, the Nixon library in particular, and Bush’s repeal of the 1978 Presidential Records Act by executive order. Someone asked him who he would vote for in November, and after identifying himself as an independent, and by nature bipartisan, he said: “I would never vote for another republican until they clean up their act.” (big applause).

There were other good if less inspirational sessions today; but I’ll leave off here to turn my full attention to Barack.