Posts Tagged ‘power of images’

Witness reminds us of the power of images through the Floyd Case

June 13, 2020

The video of the gruesome murder of George Floyd ignited protests around the world in solidarity against racism and white supremacy supported by the government and enforced by police. But we know for every video of police violence, there are many deaths that were not recorded that still deserve our attention and support.

Founded on the power of video to bring attention to the breach of human rights during the Rodney King arrest, beating, filming, and subsequent uprising 28 years ago, WITNESS continues to train and guide people to use their cell phone video camera to record incidents of human rights abuse, then share it with the media and justice system to prosecute wrongdoers. 

Today, the systems and patterns of police abuse are as rampant as ever. What has changed is our collective ability to document these moments. 

We help people document state violence, push for accountability, and implement structural change. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a spike in demand for our guidance on how to shoot and share footage of police violence safely, ethically, and effectively. Our tips continue to inform ethical and strategic filming of police misconduct and protests.  Video is a tool to show violence. But more importantly, it’s a tool to show patterns. It forces the broader public to pay attention, and authority to change. We have seen commitments from local and state leaders and we encourage more people around the world to break down military and police power.  And to film it.  Ambika Samarthya-Howard Head of Communications WITNESS

https://mailchi.mp/witness.org/the-power-of-video-to-film-injustice?e=e2d40a1193

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/05/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-witness/

Algorithms designed to suppress ISIS content, may also suppress evidence of human rights violations

April 11, 2020

Facebook and YouTube designed algorithms to suppress ISIS content. They're having unexpected side effects.

Illustration by Leo Acadia for TIME
TIME of 11 April 2020 carries a long article by Billy Perrigo entitled “These Tech Companies Managed to Eradicate ISIS Content. But They’re Also Erasing Crucial Evidence of War Crimes” It is a very interseting piece that clearly spells out the dilemma of supressing too much or too little on Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Algorithms designed to suppress ISIS content, are having unexpected side effects such as suppressing evidence of human rights violations.
…..Images by citizen journalist Abo Liath Aljazarawy to his Facebook page (Eye on Alhasakah’s) showed the ground reality of the Syrian civil war. His page was banned. Facebook confirmed to TIME that Eye on Alhasakah was flagged in late 2019 by its algorithms, as well as users, for sharing “extremist content.” It was then funneled to a human moderator, who decided to remove it. After being notified by TIME, Facebook restored the page in early February, some 12 weeks later, saying the moderator had made a mistake. (Facebook declined to say which specific videos were wrongly flagged, except that there were several.)The algorithms were developed largely in reaction to ISIS, who shocked the world in 2014 when they began to share slickly-produced online videos of executions and battles as propaganda. Because of the very real way these videos radicalized viewers, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria worked overtime to suppress them, and enlisted social networks to help. Quickly, the companies discovered that there was too much content for even a huge team of humans to deal with. (More than 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.) So, since 2017, beg have been using algorithms to automatically detect extremist content. Early on, those algorithms were crude, and only supplemented the human moderators’ work. But now, following three years of training, they are responsible for an overwhelming proportion of detections. Facebook now says more than 98% of content removed for violating its rules on extremism is flagged automatically. On YouTube, across the board, more than 20 million videos were taken down before receiving a single view in 2019. And as the coronavirus spread across the globe in early 2020, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter announced their algorithms would take on an even larger share of content moderation, with human moderators barred from taking sensitive material home with them.

But algorithms are notoriously worse than humans at understanding one crucial thing: context. Now, as Facebook and YouTube have come to rely on them more and more, even innocent photos and videos, especially from war zones, are being swept up and removed. Such content can serve a vital purpose for both civilians on the ground — for whom it provides vital real-time information — and human rights monitors far away. In 2017, for the first time ever, the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands issued a war-crimes indictment based on videos from Libya posted on social media. And as violence-detection algorithms have developed, conflict monitors are noticing an unexpected side effect, too: these algorithms could be removing evidence of war crimes from the Internet before anyone even knows it exists.

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It was an example of how even one mistaken takedown can make the work of human rights defenders more difficult. Yet this is happening on a wider scale: of the 1.7 million YouTube videos preserved by Syrian Archive, a Berlin-based non-profit that downloads evidence of human rights violations, 16% have been removed. A huge chunk were taken down in 2017, just as YouTube began using algorithms to flag violent and extremist content. And useful content is still being removed on a regular basis. “We’re still seeing that this is a problem,” says Jeff Deutsch, the lead researcher at Syrian Archive. “We’re not saying that all this content has to remain public forever. But it’s important that this content is archived, so it’s accessible to researchers, to human rights groups, to academics, to lawyers, for use in some kind of legal accountability.” (YouTube says it is working with Syrian Archive to improve how they identify and preserve footage that could be useful for human rights groups.)

…..

Facebook and YouTube’s detection systems work by using a technology called machine learning, by which colossal amounts of data (in this case, extremist images, videos, and their metadata) are fed to an artificial intelligence adept at spotting patterns. Early types of machine learning could be trained to identify images containing a house, or a car, or a human face. But since 2017, Facebook and YouTube have been feeding these algorithms content that moderators have flagged as extremist — training them to automatically identify beheadings, propaganda videos and other unsavory content.

Both Facebook and YouTube are notoriously secretive about what kind of content they’re using to train the algorithms responsible for much of this deletion. That means there’s no way for outside observers to know whether innocent content — like Eye on Alhasakah’s — has already been fed in as training data, which would compromise the algorithm’s decision-making. In the case of Eye on Alhasakah’s takedown, “Facebook said, ‘oops, we made a mistake,’” says Dia Kayyali, the Tech and Advocacy coordinator at Witness, a human rights group focused on helping people record digital evidence of abuses. “But what if they had used the page as training data? Then that mistake has been exponentially spread throughout their system, because it’s going to train the algorithm more, and then more of that similar content that was mistakenly taken down is going to get taken down. I think that is exactly what’s happening now.” Facebook and YouTube, however, both deny this is possible. Facebook says it regularly retrains its algorithms to avoid this happening. In a statement, YouTube said: “decisions made by human reviewers help to improve the accuracy of our automated flagging systems.”

…….
That’s because Facebook’s policies allow some types of violence and extremism but not others — meaning decisions on whether to take content down is often based on cultural context. Has a video of an execution been shared by its perpetrators to spread fear? Or by a citizen journalist to ensure the wider world sees a grave human rights violation? A moderator’s answer to those questions could mean that of two identical videos, one remains online and the other is taken down. “This technology can’t yet effectively handle everything that is against our rules,” Saltman said. “Many of the decisions we have to make are complex and involve decisions around intent and cultural nuance which still require human eye and judgement.”

In this balancing act, it’s Facebook’s army of human moderators — many of them outsourced contractors — who carry the pole. And sometimes, they lose their footing. After several of Eye on Alhasakah’s posts were flagged by algorithms and humans alike, a Facebook moderator wrongly decided the page should be banned entirely for sharing violent videos in order to praise them — a violation of Facebook’s rules on violence and extremism, which state that some content can remain online if it is newsworthy, but not if it encourages violence or valorizes terrorism. The nuance, Facebook representatives told TIME, is important for balancing freedom of speech with a safe environment for its users — and keeping Facebook on the right side of government regulations.

Facebook’s set of rules on the topic reads like a gory textbook on ethics: beheadings, decomposed bodies, throat-slitting and cannibalism are all classed as too graphic, and thus never allowed; neither is dismemberment — unless it’s being performed in a medical setting; nor burning people, unless they are practicing self-immolation as an act of political speech, which is protected. Moderators are given discretion, however, if violent content is clearly being shared to spread awareness of human rights abuses. “In these cases, depending on how graphic the content is, we may allow it, but we place a warning screen in front of the content and limit the visibility to people aged 18 or over,” said Saltman. “We know not everyone will agree with these policies and we respect that.”

But civilian journalists operating in the heat of a civil war don’t always have time to read the fine print. And conflict monitors say it’s not enough for Facebook and YouTube to make all the decisions themselves. “Like it or not, people are using these social media platforms as a place of permanent record,” says Woods. “The social media sites don’t get to choose what’s of value and importance.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/17/social-media-councils-an-answer-to-problems-of-content-moderation-and-distribution/

https://time.com/5798001/facebook-youtube-algorithms-extremism/

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Witness

April 5, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of the coming weeks. Here the one by Sam Gregory of

…..The immediate implications of coronavirus – quarantine, enhanced emergency powers, restrictions on sharing information –  make it harder for individuals all around the world to document and share the realities of government repression and private actors’ violations.  In states of emergency, authoritarian governments in particular can operate with further impunity, cracking down on free speech and turning to increasingly repressive measures. The threat of coronavirus and its justifying power provides cover for rights-violating laws and measures that history tells us may long outlive the actual pandemic. And the attention on coronavirus distracts focus from rights issues that are both compounded by the impact of the virus and cannot claim the spotlight now.

At WITNESS we are adapting and responding, led by what we learn and hear from the communities of activism, human rights and civic journalism with which we collaborate closely across the world. We will continue to ensure that our guidance on direct documentation helps people document the truth even under trying circumstances and widespread misinformation. We will draw on our experience curating voices and information from closed situations to make sense in confusion. We will provide secure online training while options for physical meeting are curtailed. We will provide meaningful localized guidance on how to document and verify amid an information pandemic; and we will ensure that long-standing struggles are not neglected now when they need it most.

In this crisis moment, it is critical that we enhance the abilities and defend the rights of people who document and share critical realities from the ground. Across the three core thematic issues we currently work on, the need is critical. For issues such as video as evidence from conflict zones, these wars continue on and reach their apex even as coronavirus takes all the attention away. We need only look to the current situation in Idlib, Yemen or in other states of conflict in the Middle East.

For other issues, like state violence against minorities, many people already live in a state of emergency.

Coronavirus response in Complexo do Alemão favela, Rio de Janeiro (credit: Raull Santiago)

Favela residents in Brazil have lived with vastly elevated levels of police killings of civilians for years, and now face a parallel health emergency. Meanwhile immigrant communities in the US have lived in fear of ICE for years and must now weigh their physical health against their physical safety and family integrity. Many communities – in Kashmir and in Rakhine State, Burma – live without access to the internet on an ongoing basis and must still try and share what is happening. And for those who fight for their land rights and environmental justice, coronavirus is both a threat to vulnerable indigenous and poor communities lacking health care, sanitation and state support as well as a powerful distraction from their battle against structural injustice.

A critical part of WITNESS’ strategy is our work to ensure technology companies actions and government regulation of technology are accountable to the most vulnerable members of our global society – marginalized populations globally, particularly those outside the US and Europe, as well as human rights defenders and civic journalists. As responses to coronavirus kick-in there are critical implications in how both civic technology and commercial technology are now being deployed and will be deployed.

Already, coronavirus has acted as an accelerant – like fuel on the fire – to existing trends in technology. Some of these have potentially profound negative impacts for human rights values, human rights documentation and human rights defenders; others may hold a silver lining.

My colleague Dia Kayyali has already written about the sudden shift to much broader algorithmic content moderation that took place last week as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube sent home their human moderators. Over the past years, we’ve seen the implications of both a move to algorithmic moderation and a lack of will and resourcing: from hate speech staying on platforms in vulnerable societies, to the removal critical war crimes evidence at scale from YouTube, to a lack of accountability for decisions made under the guise of countering terrorist and violent extremist content. But in civil society we did not anticipate that such a shift to more broad algorithmic control would happen so rapidly in such a short period of time. We must closely monitor and push for this change not to adversely affect societies and critical struggles worldwide in a moment when they are already threatened by isolation and increased government repression. As Dia suggests, now is the moment for these companies to finally make their algorithms and content moderation processes more transparent to critical civil society experts, as well as reset on how they support and treat the human beings who do the dirty work of moderation.

WITNESS’s work on misinformation and disinformation spans a decade of supporting the production of truthful, trustworthy content in war zones, crises and long-standing struggles for rights. Most recently we have focused on the emerging threats from deepfakes and other forms of synthetic media that enable increasingly realistic fakery of what looks like a real person saying or doing something they never did.

We’ve led the first global expert meetings in Brazil, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia on what a rights-respecting, global responses should look like in terms of understanding threats and solutions. Feedback from these sessions has stressed the need for attention to a continuum of audiovisual misinformation including ‘shallowfakes’, the simpler forms of miscontextualized and lightly edited videos that dominate attempts to confuse and deceive. Right now, social media platforms are unleashing a series of responses to misinformation around Coronavirus – from highlighting authoritative health information from country-level and international sources, to curating resources, offering help centers, and taking down a wider range of content that misinforms, deceives or price gouges including even leading politicians, such as President Bolsonaro in Brazil. The question we must ask is what we want to see internet companies continue to do after the crisis: what should they do for a wider range of misinformation and disinformation outside of health – and what do we not want them to do? We’ll be sharing more about this in the coming weeks.

And where can we find a technological silver lining? One area may be the potential to discover and explore new ways to act in solidarity and agency with each other online. A long-standing area of work at WITNESS is how to use ‘co-presence’ and livestreaming to bridge social distances and help people witness snd support one another when physical proximity is not possible.

Our Mobil-Eyes Us project supported favela-based activists to use live video to better engage their audiences to be with them, and provide meaningful support. In parts of the world that benefit from broadband internet access, and the absence of arbitrary shutdowns, and the ability to physically isolate, we are seeing an explosion of experimentation in how to operate better in a world that is both physically distanced, yet still socially proximate. We should learn from this and drive experimentation and action in ensuring that even as our freedom of assembly in physical space is curtailed for legitimate (and illegitimate) reasons, our ability to assemble online in meaningful action is not curtailed but enhanced.

In moments of crisis good and bad actors alike will try and push the agenda that they want. In this moment of acceleration and crisis, WITNESS is committed to ensuring an agenda firmly grounded, and led by a human rights vision and the wants and needs of vulnerable communities and human rights defenders worldwide.

Coronavirus and human rights: Preparing WITNESS’s response

 

Lebanon: human rights defenders use graffiti to express hope

January 24, 2020

The blue graffiti reads: “Oh, my wonderful country.” Photo by Nohad Elhajj.

Since the 17th of October 2019, Lebanon has been in the grips of widespread public protests against the social, economic, and political conditions of the country. The protesters are holding the government accountable for degrading living conditions and demanding serious and drastic changes. ….. But something, equally alive, captivates the place: graffiti. Building walls, stone barriers, wooden panels, even the asphalt ground are all covered with graffiti. With their diverse slogans, creative motifs, and direct, uncensored political and social messages, the graffiti artists collectively illustrate the people’s discourse demanding a full-fledged social and political reform.

On 23 January 2020 Nohad Elhajj – a development practitioner and independent researcher – wrote an interesting piece on this aspect in Global Rights, with rich illustrations:

….. reflecting on the present status of human rights and the human rights movement is of utmost need. More importantly, we need to consider questions about the future of those rights and this movement. In his 2019 article, Thomas Coombes offers a new way to address the future of Human Rights with “hope-based communication” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/30/positive-communication-is-the-only-way-forward-for-effective-human-rights-work/]….

Graffiti is defined as “a form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group”. The definition by itself poses a duality; would unauthorized marking of public space become positive communication? Would it possibly shift perspectives? Maybe not all, but some graffiti certainly does convey political messages. The question here is not about authority per se but the disruption of this authority. The act itself is intrinsically disruptive and political whether graffiti is acceptable or not. Starting from this understanding, graffiti, as a visual act, then can be leveraged as a participatory and accessible medium to shift public perspectives on human rights issues. Yet, the human rights movement does not only need to shift the public opinion but also to shift the current governance structures, which is beyond the impact of graffiti. The graffiti in Riyad El Soloh Square is a good illustration of this.

Graffiti is not new to the Lebanese society, but revolution graffiti is particular and powerful because of its relevance, the messages it conveys, and the places it occupies to convey these messages. The graffiti artists practiced their right to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, while communicating, directly and clearly, human rights demands from women rights, LGBTQ rights, economic and social rights to civil and political rights. (Shown in Pictures below).

……
The Lebanese graffiti artists have pushed and merged both boundaries of political participation and art. The graffiti imposes itself on the observer and on the spaces it occupies with wit and audacity. It overwhelms the observer with emotions of anger, despair, longing and revolt but also with hope. Much of this street art offers a thought-provoking mosaic of entangled messages and images. The graffiti above shows a white pigeon (a recurring image) combined with a strong slogan about workers’ rights; this combination conveys that those rights, and other demands, will be achieved in the future.

Similar to that, the graffiti at the beginning of this article offers another perplexing combination. The whole piece can be read as: “Oh my wonderful country, sectarianism burned us”. As much as it articulates a cry of despair with hurt and agony, it also retains the image of a wonderful country before civil war and a political system that has crippled it for the past 45 years. The generation who lived the war is still lamenting it and the following generations were still living in the resulting divisions and sectarianism—up until the 17th of October 2019. Akin to the protests, the graffiti captured a future hope of a country that will regain its glory after necessary social and political change.

The artists’ urge to mark every visible surface around Riad El Soloh square with spray paint and brushes placed them right in the middle of an already contested political and social scene, and it placed the rights discourse in the middle and around this scene. This graffiti proved to be a strong visual expression of all the protesters’ demands and a way to engage the public with it, both inside and outside Lebanon. Through their paint, these graffiti artists created a distinctive, unprecedented, and positive narrative about human rights in Lebanon: a narrative that more and more organizations and activists are now hanging onto.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/graffiti-creates-positive-human-rights-narratives-in-lebanon/

 

Documentary on Discovery series explores ‘Why We Hate’

October 18, 2019

A counter-protester gives a white supremacist the middle finger. The white supremacists responds with a Nazi salute. Charlottesville August 12, 2017.

A counter-protester gives a white supremacist the middle finger. The white supremacists responds with a Nazi salute. Charlottesville August 12, 2017. (Photo: Evan Nesterak)

writes in Citizen Truth of 17 new documentary series titled “Why We Hate” which premiered Sunday on the Discovery Channel and explores “one of humanity’s most primal and destructive emotions – hate.” Directed by Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir and produced by Hollywood veteran Steven Spielberg, the six-part docuseries aims to help people understand their own minds to prevent hatred from spreading.

Pollard made no bones about the subject matter’s relation to America today, telling NPR: “If you think about where we are in the United States with Trump as president, the idea that he demonizes people from other countries, specifically Mexico — that’s another way to sort of separate us from them.” He then went on to compare it to the worst outcomes for such divisiveness: genocide, as with the Holocaust in Germany during World War II, and Cambodia.

The isolation of disadvantaged persons and groups can also lead to extremism, Pollard believes — referencing skinheads and gang members who are seeking a family to belong to. This appeals to the tribal nature of humans, which in turn leads to contempt towards outsiders.

Co-director Gandbhir insists that hate “is something that we all have in common. It is not unique to one society or one group of people.” “Why We Hate” manages to show a wide variety of how hate is manifested, such as: a campaign in Colombia to reunify a bitterly divided country from the decades of war between government forces and FARC guerrillas; a de-radicalized white American man who now works to reform white supremacists; pro- and anti-Trump activists; the Israeli and Palestinian conflict; easily angered soccer hooligans and survivors of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar….Surely in our culturally and politically divisive times, this is a timely subject to tackle and learn more about.

Timely New Documentary Series Explores ‘Why We Hate’

“Fly So Far” film portrays women jailed under Salvador abortion laws

September 16, 2019

Teodora Vasquez is photographed during an interview with AFP in San Salvador on September 12, 2019

Teodora Vasquez spent 10 years in jail for murder in El Salvador. Her crime? Giving birth to a dead baby. Now a new film tells her story and highlights the plight of 16 women still serving long sentences, as pressure grows for legislative change. Vasquez, who served more than one-third of her 30-year sentence, will present the 90-minute documentary “Fly So Far” at a festival in Sweden on 23 September. “After being locked up for so long, you can fly, you can go far,” Vasquez told AFP in an interview, explaining the film’s title. Vasquez, who will be in Stockholm to launch the film has become an outspoken human rights defender.

Sixteen women are currently in prison in El Salvador for what human rights groups describe as obstetric emergencies. Under Salvadoran law however, they were convicted of having abortions. “Even if those 16 women regain their freedom, we will continue the fight because we don’t want future generations to end up in jail because of the kind of obstetric problem that happened us,” said Vasquez.

The film by Swiss-Salvadoran director Celina Escher hopes to highlight their plight on the world stage. The film focuses on Maria Teresa Rivera, who was given political asylum in Sweden after being jailed in El Salvador. It portrays her life inside as well as after her release, showing the difficulties experienced by these women integrating back into society, particularly given the stigma of the crime for which they were convicted.

Vasquez currently directs a project that provides ex-prisoners with the chance of a fresh start — offering healthcare, psychological help, employment assistance and legal advice. “We have the problem that when we recover our freedom we leave with a criminal record, and having a criminal record, prevents us from getting any job.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/film-portrays-plight-women-jailed-under-salvador-abortion-013850604–spt.html

Carmignac Photojournalism Award for covering human rights violations – in 2019: the Amazon

September 15, 2019

Grajaú, Brazil—A deforested area in the southern Maranhão state seen from a helicopter belonging to IBAMA, Brazil’s national environmental agency [Photo: © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac]

The Carmignac Photojournalism Award is an annual prize given to investigative photojournalists covering human rights violations [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/carmignac-photojournalism-award]. Each year, a team of environmental and political leaders selects a region to focus on and then selects a recipient, who uses the foundation’s $55,000 prize money to shoot the project they proposed. The annual award, now in its 10th year, focuses on a different region and associated human rights topic each year. For 2019 the jury chose to call for project proposals around deforestation and the Amazon. Evan Nicole Brown writing in Fact Company of 12 September 2019 notes that “in an ironic twist, the recipient of the prize money was announced as the rain forest was being obscured by plumes of smoke from the unprecedented fires.

The winner, Tommaso Protti, is an Italian-born photographer who has lived in Brazil for the past five years. ..the prize money supported the production of his photojournalism work, which began in January of this year and wrapped up in July. His reportage, developed in tandem with British journalist Sam Cowie, was revealed at the Visa pour l’Image festival in France on September 4.

……

“There’s a big problem with impunity inside the region because of the state—it leads directly to killing the environment and indigenous leaders,” Protti says. “The people there don’t have the protection [like most of us] experiencing climate collapse. The majority of the people I’ve met try to make a living with what the forest offers them.”

Kayapó Indigenous Land—Kayapo children play behind a waterfall in the Kubenkrãnken indigenous village, in southern Pará state. The Kayapo have only been in contact with nonindigenous society since the 1960s. Their land serves as a crucial barrier to deforestation advancing from the south. [Photo: © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac]

Poor environmental health in the Amazon is, in part, responsible for poverty and violence in surrounding favelas too. Rural agricultural workers, who depend on the forest for a living, have been forced to leave the Amazon now that it is less dense and farming has been modernized. The only place left for them to go are Brazil’s cities, resulting in a crowding of favelas and the tension that results from a government pushing disparate communities into close proximity.

One of Protti’s selected photographs depicts members of the Guajajara forest guard beating an indigenous man accused of collaborating with illegal loggers. Over the course of his time photographing the rain forest and its native people, Protti was able to observe how seasonal changes affect the Amazon’s health, during the dry season (July through October) and the rainy season too. The joint work between Protti and Cowie explores the humanitarian crises plaguing the region—from Venezuelan refugee groups to agrarian and religious conflicts—and the ongoing deforestation too. “It’s a really complex award from my point of view. [The Amazon] is a national treasure,” Protti says about his win. “It’s nothing new, fires happen every year . . . but at the same time, the fires are consequences of the social [situation].”

Protti’s photographs and the accompanying reportage will be presented in London and at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris starting December 4. They will also be included, concurrently, in a monograph copublished with Reliefs Éditions.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90399868/a-photographers-race-to-document-the-destruction-of-the-amazon-rain-forest

YouTube human rights news channel ‘Just Asia’ deserves more viewers

May 8, 2019

As founding video producer of Just Asia, Amila Sampath, 30, gathers film clips and news snippets from around the region. His sources include activists, lawyers and NGOs, and the show, uploaded on Fridays, is anchored by university student volunteers. Sampath has produced more than 250 episodes of Just Asia, but getting audiences to take an interest in the protection and well-being of fellow human beings has not been easy. He is disappointed the show is not more widely viewed. “It is difficult to get people to watch human rights stories,” Sampath says. “They’re not music videos, but I just have to keep trying.”

Sampath’s aim is to broadcast regional human rights abuses to a global audience. Photo: Dickson Lee
Sampath’s aim is to broadcast regional human rights abuses to a global audience. Photo: Dickson Lee 

Just Asia he puts together with a skeletal crew comprising himself as producer, cameraman and director, and colleague Meryam Dabhoiwala, who writes the scripts and edits. Their studio is a simple office in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon, with a green screen background. Each week he compiles five regional stories and enlists the help of university students to shoot the episodes and edit the videos.

Hong Kong student volunteer Alexandra Leung presents an episode of Just Asia, a weekly human rights news programme on YouTube produced by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Hong Kong student volunteer Alexandra Leung presents an episode of Just Asia, a weekly human rights news programme on YouTube produced by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

One volunteer is Alexandra Leung Chui-yan, 22, who will be graduating from the School of Communication at Hong Kong Baptist University this month. On August 17, 2017, Leung was in Barcelona, walking along La Rambla boulevard, when a car ploughed into a crowd. The terrorist attack killed 13 people and injured more than 130, including Leung. In the ensuing chaos she was trampled, resulting in a broken toe and fractured knees. Leung has since undergone surgery, but is still not completely healed. A few months after the incident she began volunteering for Just Asia as a trainee, learning how to read the news in front of a camera and how to pronounce Southeast Asian names.

Find out more about Just Asia at www.alrc.asia/justasia or www.humanrights.asia

Start-up or impact grants available for human rights film festivals

September 28, 2018

Movies That Matter is pleased to announce that, contrary to its earlier message, there will be a second round of its grant programme this year. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/14/call-for-proposals-to-organize-human-rights-film-festivals-2018-19/] If you organise a film event to stimulate the discussion on human rights, social justice and freedom of expression, submit your project proposal!  If you are interested in organising a human rights film event in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe or the Middle East, Movies That Matter offers financial assistance and advice to festival organisers in low-income countries and states where press freedom is limited.

The deadline is 14 October. Please note that projects starting before 1 January 2019 cannot be considered.

Visit the site for other general regulations, selection criteria and the entry form.

 

Human Rights Films: call for action or entertainment?

March 20, 2018

The 1972 photo of a young girl running naked in Trang Bang screaming in pain from the effects of napalm had a profound influence on the public’s perception of the horrors of the Vietnam War. The 2015 photo of a three-year-old refugee boy drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey also had a profound influence of the public’s perception, this time on the desperate plight of millions of refugees. The images of Phan Thi Kim Phuc and Aylan Kurdi are iconic representations. Both capture larger stories; both images express powerful narratives. 

Visualization is story telling in another form. ……Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s introduced the notion that the medium of communication – movies for instance – change how a message is perceived. Directors can alter time sequences; background music can play directly to our emotions. We have entered new forms of communication that are just beginning to be understood.
The recent Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights was a significant event; 61 films shown in 57 venues in the Swiss Romand and Grand Genève, 28 debates and discussions with important figures such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Catalonian leader Carles Puidgemont as well as a human rights film tour organized by Swiss embassies in 45 countries.
…The images were shocking, almost numbing. We in the theatre became more than viewers, we became indirect witnesses through the lens of the film.
Several directors participated in debates following the presentations. They all expressed hope that the revelations shown on the screen would encourage reaction from the audience beyond the theatre. The purpose of the film, many argued, was to move the attendees and future viewers from watchers – i.e., indirect witnesses – to activists. The films, according to their creators, were calls to action.
McLuhan is most pertinent here. Watching a movie, any movie, is passive/emotional. The director leads us through what he or she wants us to see and feel. We are being literally directed. At a human rights film festival, we are directed, made aware, and called to action. The message of the medium is more than just perception; it is a motivation to do something. But the screen is just a screen, and a silver screen at that. The films were expertly produced. Most were technologically impressive. The cruelty and crudeness of human suffering were presented with all that modernity could offer.
It is the contrast between the rawness of grave breaches of human dignity and the sophistication of the current cinema that somehow reduced the power of the message. If, according to McLuhan, the medium is the message, then the films themselves – with all their slick professionalism – somehow played against a call to action. The excellence of the films was in contradiction to the cruelty and chaos of what they were showing.
.. Human rights activists are turning to visualization to appeal to larger and larger audiences. Visualization is today’s most powerful means of communication and it is becoming more and more sophisticated. The object of human rights’ film makers is to get the message out to the largest audience in an appealing way. The written era of Gutenberg is no longer hot. It is easier to teach students World War II by viewing Saving Private Ryan than to have them read weighty tomes of historical documentation.
If the message of human rights’ films is to witness human rights violations and call to action, professional presentations may be counter-productive. Movies are fundamentally entertainment; however instructive they may be. But when it comes to human rights and their violations, there should be as little entertainment as possible.