On May 3rd, WITNESS will participate in The Media for Social Change UnConference at the Birmingham City University in Birmingham, England. This UnConference will bring together activists, academics and citizen journalists to discuss media and social change in MENA through participant-generated and facilitated discussion. Additional information about the event can be found here, along with all of the sessions that have been proposed thus far which can be found on the UnConference’s Barcamp Wiki. In preparation for the event I spoke with UnConference organizer, Dima Saber about the goals of the event. (More about Dima can be found below the interview.)
Sarah Kerr: How did the idea for the UnConference come about?
Dima Saber: The original purpose of this gathering was to bring together the group that has been working on Meedan’s Checkdesk project for the last three years. Since we are all spread out through the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in other places, we wanted to organize a meeting to reflect on lessons learned from the project. However, once we started working on the conference, we realized it would be even better open up the conversation people who would be potential users of our tool. There has been so much excitement about social media and the Arab Uprisings, it is time we sit and reflect on what happened and try to quantify and measure the effects of these new tools so that we can learn how to better use them in the future. We were also eager to break out of a rigid conference format and allow people to interact freely and discuss the things they really want to talk about. The theme of the UnConference, Media and Social Change is also part of my ongoing work at the Birmingham Center for Media and Cultural Research where I bring together people from the academic community in the UK to discuss the meaning and impact of media and social change.
Photo courtesy of Essam Sharaf via Creative Commons
SK: Can you tell me about how you chose the themes to be discussed? What some of the challenges you are hoping to tackle during the sessions?
The three themes of the conference are the challenges and opportunities of citizen reporting, video for social change and language mediation for those using media for social change. With citizen reporting, We are currently in an environment where there is a lot of misinformation and generally limited media literacy. In my opinion, we need to stop focusing on the fact that social media was used during many of the Arab Revolutions and start focusing on how these tools were used and how they can be used in a more effectively in the future. Hence the focus on citizen journalists as our target audience, these are people who have been using this tools for years and interested in improving upon what they do. We are also very pleased that a number of citizen journalists from MENA who are studying in the UK who will be attending along with media researchers who can contribute more information on citizen reporting.
Another important component is video for social change which will be represented by Raja Althaibani from WITNESS, Professor Michelle Aaron from University of Birmingham who focuses on video and social change in the city ofBirmingham, and the Syrian crew of a forthcoming documentary about Syria, which includes Signe Byrge who was also the producer of the Act of Killing. We hope to have a really interesting discussion about what video for social change really is and how you select images and chose stories that motivate people to action instead of scarring or traumatizing them when dealing with difficult subject matters.
We will also discuss language mediation issues in the realm of media and social change. When you have an abundance of video being posted online that is then being translated, who is translating it? What is translatable across languages and cultures and what is not? We have the head of the linguistics department at the University of Manchester coming to talk about translation and how to navigate some of these issues.
However, since it is an UnConference, these themes are there to guide people into discussions, if they want to discuss something completely different, we encourage them to do so.
Image courtesy of Johnathan Rashad via Creative Commons
SK: What are you hoping will be accomplished during the event?
This is the tricky part of an UnConference, you work to organize a space for a lot of interesting people to get together, but once they are there you have to step back and let them develop ideas amongst themselves. I would really hope that at the wrap-up session people are eager to discuss how they want to collaborate in the future. It will be important for us to focus on how we can build on the discussion that took place and turn our ideas into projects and action. My hope is that people create relationships that they would want to build upon later.
Personally, I want to work on a pilot project with research centers in the UK to come together, as activists and researchers, to organize a series of events and cultural exchanges to discuss the relationship between education and technology in the Arab world. I want to focus on training and supporting more educators and instructors in the Arab world to develop open education resources and run Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to promote media literacy and media for social change.
Dima Saber is a senior researcher in media for social change at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research where she studies citizen journalism in the Arab region. Dima also works on a variety of projects with Meedan, a media for social change group focused on citizen media and cross-cultural education and knowledge exchange. Before moving to the UK, Dima completed a Phd in Media Studies from the University of Panthéon-Assas in Paris and founded AltCity.me, a high-impact social media/tech collaboration space in Beirut.