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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

We start the day with a visit to Dahshur (Red and Bent Pyramid), have a coffee in Islamic Quarter, visit the Townhouse Gallery, enjoy diner and second beer in Cafe Riche, have a coffee in the posh hotel in Al Azhar Park, visit the theatre El Genaina for an wonderful performance of Donia Massoud, have a drink at the Hotel Odeon roof terrace and finish this night out in the excellent Cairo JazzClub.

Thursday 13 October

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Omhelzingen met vertrokken monden, waterige ogen. Het huilen lijkt velen nader dan het lachen bij binnenkomst van de Cite de Scienes in Tunis. ‘We were right. It was worth the risk. We did it.’ De meesten zien elkaar voor het eerst sinds de revoluties van het volk deze lente. Voor anderen is het een weerzien sinds de vorige Arab Bloggers Meeting, in 2009 Beirut. Uit meer dan 15 landen zijn deze circa 100 bloggers en techies weer verzameld.
Twee jaar geleden kwamen ze bij elkaar in een hotel in Beirut; internetgeeks met een visie. De buitenwereld, geen enkel medium, was geïnteresseerd. Hoe anders is de situatie nu, na de zogenaamde Arabische lente. Door het inzetten van social media zoals Facebook en Twitter zijn de Arabische nerds moderne helden. Nu geven onder andere AlJazeera, BBC, Der Spiegel acte de presence op deze Arab Bloggers Meeting (AB11) .Na een publieke eerste dag, volgen drie besloten dagen met een ‘barcamp’ karakter. Iedere aanwezige kan een idee/workshop/kwestie – of wat je ook op je lever hebt- presenteren. Een laagdrempelige aanpak die werkt bij deze eigenwijze types.

Het is wonderlijk ‘off duty’ te zijn; zowel voor hen als voor mij. Er is veel dat aanleiding geeft tot een vervolg. Ik waarschuw voor mijn ‘out of office’ bericht vanaf mijn Hivos adres: afwezig tot 1 Jan 2012. Deze maanden focus ik me op Syrië. Een focus beperkt maar geeft ook rust en vrijheid. Deze gerichtheid op een land doet beseffen hoe weinig ik weet, zelfs als redelijk ingevoerde buitenstaander.
Nog twee rondes van workshops, een afscheidsfeest vanavond en AB11 is voorbij. Dat wordt afkicken. Vervolgens heb ik twee dagen om iets  van Tunis te zien. Om mijn spatjes koloniaal bloed niet te verloochenen, doe ik dat vanuit Grand Hotel de France.

Zet circa 2000 Internet activisten, techneuten, beleidsmakers en ondernemers vier dagen bij elkaar; en doe de deur op slot. Dat is wat het Internet Governance Forum (IGF) jaarlijks doet. Dit jaar had het IGF circus zijn tenten opgeslagen op het terrein van de United Nations in Nairobi. Het is absurd om een kleine week in Kenia te zijn en vrijwel niet meer te zien dan het hotel (charmant) en het UN complex (expat dorp op zich).

Het aardige is dat ondanks de verschillende – en soms ook tegengestelde – belangen en interesses dit bonte gezelschap een ding gemeen heeft: het doorontwikkelen van ons aller Internet. Het enige moment dat ik me deze week buiten de IGF kaasstolp begaf was de middag waarop ik – in het gezelschap met de NL delegatie – het regionale kantoor en enkele Hivos projecten (Map Kibera en iHub) in de stad bezocht. Leuk natuurlijk om op het kantoor de mensen te ontmoeten die ik slechts van naam of via email ken. De NL delegatie is een verhaal apart, daaraan ga ik nu geen woorden vuil maken.

Gisteravond Ethiopisch gegeten met Greg, Mendi en Els – collega’s-op-afstand – en enkele avondlijke gelegenheden bezocht waaronder het eerste openlijke gay feest in Nairobi. Deze vinden doorgaans heimelijk plaats. Dit partijtje – op het dak van een oude shopping mall – was aangekondigd op Twitter en Facebook. Om tien uur waren er 15 mensen, wat zielig verdeeld over de twee bars onder een tentdoek. Natuurlijk is dat veel te vroeg. Om twaalf uur beklom ik de trappen van de mall – dit keer alleen – opnieuw en trof 60 en 80 butches, femmes, bears, teddies en bescheiden drags: trots en vrolijk. De eerste gay rooftop party in Nairobi oogt veelbelovend. De tweede keer – zoals wel vaker – nog beter!
Tot volgend keer – met foto’s – vanuit Tunis.

Terwijl demonstraties in Tunesiė en Egypte hebben geleid tot het afzetten van de respectievelijke regimes, lijkt de Arabische Lente in Syriė tot een uiterst gewelddadige halt te komen, met inmiddels meer dan 1700 doden, waarvan het overgrote merendeel burgers. Buitenlandse media worden niet in Syriė toegelaten en nationale en lokale media maken vrijwel uitsluitend propaganda voor het regime van president Bashar Al-Assad en de zijne.. Ondanks het schrijnend gebrek aan onafhankelijke nieuwsbronnen en het gewelddadige optreden van leger en veiligheidsdiensten blijken toch steeds meer Syrische burgers zich aan te sluiten bij de demonstraties tegen het regime. Hoe zijn de demonstraties georganiseerd? In hoeverre sturen lokale, nationale en internationale media deze demonstraties? En wat kan de wereld – en dan met name Nederland – doen om de Arabische lente in Syriė te ondersteunen?

Over deze vragen en de actuele situatie in Syriė spreken onder andere Alaa van Mierlo- Abdulfatah (bestuurslid Syrisch Comite, een van de initiatiefnemers van het Jasmijnplein), Francesca DeChatel (journalist/onderzoeker, voormalig eindredacteur Syria Today) en Adib Gezrawi (blogger, activist)

Het gesprek, onder leiding van journalist Anne Salomons, vindt plaats op donderdag 4 augustus 20.00 uur (zaal open 19.30), in Galerie Mezrab.
Voertaal: Nederlands
Mezrab/Artcage
Domselaerstraat 120
1093 MB Amsterdam

Phone: +31 61 477 5777

Published on Hivos-Knowledge-Programme (ENG)

Als internet geen keuze is maar enige optie

‘De discussie over de gevolgen van internet voor de democratie is nog niet afgelopen’. Met deze algemene conclusie gaat het opiniestuk ‘Internetsurveillance’ van Evgeny Morozov in NRC(15 January, 2011) uit als een nachtkaars. Zijn betoog keert zich tegen ‘internetapostelen’ die geloven dat van internet uitsluitend een democratiserende werking kan uitgaan en dat ‘internet ons tot hypertolerante wereldburgers’ zou maken. Er zijn echter weinig mensen die de hoogmis van internet en democratie nog zingen.

Overheden – autoritaire èn democratische – willen meer grip op internet. Morozov beschrijft het Russische amusement bombardement, de geavanceerde Iraanse blokkades en filtersystemen en de Amerikaanse inspanningen om Wikileaks het zwijgen op te leggen. Deze donkere kant van internet is één – belangrijke – kant van het verhaal die terdege veel aandacht behoeft. Het is echter te makkelijk om het medium eendimensionaal als bedreigend te beschrijven.

Het is waar; voor het vijfde jaar op rij zijn politieke rechten wereldwijd op hun retour. Freedom House rapporteerde onlangs dat met name China, Egypte, Iran, Rusland en Venezuela repressieve maatregelen uitbreiden zonder enig protest van betekenis van de democratische wereld. (NRC, 13 januari) Het Amerikaanse instituut ontwaart zorgelijke ontwikkelingen op internet in Azië, de voormalige Sovjet republieken en Latijns Amerika. Overheden grijpen in door websites af te sluiten, webloggers op te pakken of door de internetsnelheid opzettelijk laag te houden zoals in Iran.

Met eenzijdig somberen doen we geen recht aan de positieve bijdrage die het relatief jonge medium internet levert aan toegang tot informatie en daardoor ook aan het proces van democratisering. Spreekwoordelijk is de Keniaanse student die artikelen voor zijn scriptie bij elkaar zoekt in de Library of Congress in Washington. Door internet, en vooral de web 2.0 mogelijkheden, kunnen burgers berichten relatief eenvoudig en vooral goedkoop publiceren en verspreiden. Birmese bloggers hebben, niet zonder risico, foto’s on line gezet van het overstromingsdrama in hun land. Een politie inval bij een homo-organisatie in Kyrgystan was binnen een paar uur de wereld rond en Twitter speelt een cruciale communicatierol bij de protesten in Tunesië.

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Taking some days off to dive into the yearly International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) is one of the biggest treats I can dream of. Most of my festival days start with a huge cup of Americano before I disappear in to cinemas around the Rembrandts square. In between the films I am having coffee and later on wine breaks with friends, filmmakers and other visitors of the festival. Only the hideous Christmas market (Winterland) – filling up almost the whole square – is a disturbing pain in the eyes and ears this year. Ignoring this foolish market as much as possible and watching about 20 films I enjoyed the IDFA 2010 until the very last-minute. A top 3 through the eyes of an advanced amateur:

1. Feathered Cocaine, by Arnarson and Hardarson Alan Parrot was falconer for the Sjah of Iran. Now smugglers are trading – many times illegal – falcons to obsessed oil sheikhs. To the wealthy elite throughout the Arab region falcon hunting is a passion beyond compare. Bedouin tribes of the past used the falcon for hunting game that formed a nutritionally important part of their diet. Today this is no longer necessary but the falcon remains an part of the Arab’s lifestyle and tradition and falconry is an important sporting activity. As a result of the illegal trade certain falcon species are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. Parrot commits himself to the preservation of this endangered species. He devoted himself to his very passionate objective and learns about coincidentally the place of one of Osama Bin Laden’s hunting camp in Iran. This is the place where Bin Laden stays with his entourage and four falcons during the hunting season – October until March.

Strangely enough, the US authorities are not interested in the seemingly solid information and direct sources of Parrot. Maybe because I watched American Coupe (see below) the day before; but somehow the disinterest did not surprise me really. To close; this film is a true visual essay in every sense: – relevant topic – well documented and intelligently opinionated – beautiful film scenes (falcons relaxing and in action, Tajik views, illegal trade situations versus elitist falcon market in Qatar) – excellent storytelling. The part of Bin Laden only enters half an hour before the end. The indifference of the CIA comes as a blow to the audience: to f…unbelievable to be true. One weak point of the film is the title: there are almost no drugs in the film. One of the makers – I did not hear his name clearly because of the background noise in the café – told the birds command prices from 25,000 to 1 million dollar and they are nicknamed ‘feathered cocaine’. That is a shame because a more sexy title would have drawn more interest of the public. How about ‘Osama Bin Laden’s great hobby’?

2. Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich. Much has been written about this beautiful film.  I attended  Retels’s IDFA Masterclass on Friday 19th November in Escape. A few quotes:

`I am trying to catch the moment. To catch what is happening in on single shot and still have all the angles. Like it is shot with several cameras. I want freedom of movement and to move with my camera more flexible in space. This method is based on the theories of the French film critic Andre Bazin who’s books I read only after I finished the film school. Basicly I reinvented his ideas with regards to objective reality’ –  such as documentaries and films of the Italian neo realism school – and directors who made themselves ‘invisible’.’

Single shot cinema comes down to:

–         Shoot the beginning, middle and the end. Framing is not that important but try to keep with the movement of your camera the object of interest in the centre. In this way the material will dictate the editing work afterwards

–         Filming consciously makes that you always will be too late. Use your feeling and intuition: be fluid, invisible and e-motional. Act natural and follow your topic in a organical way. Be in the moment to capture the story. This might sound very Zen but yes I am a Tai Chi practitioner.

–         Knowing the filmhistory. Not only sociology, philosophy and politics but keep a close eye on the inventions: those are changing our way of working. Sound, remote control, hand-held digital camera; they all changed the film world tremendously.’

Helmrich shot 300 hours of material for his film Position among the Stars, he does not use external microphones because people become too aware of being filmed. Also Helmrich does not use much music in his films; only in more symbolic scenes like such as the boy running through the streets with clothing in each hand. The scene with the man walking along the train bridge is shot with the help of a bamboo crane on a dolly riding over the rail track with two persons hanging on each side as counterweights. Helmrich demonstrates some single shot positions with people from the audience, shows how he is handing over the camera to another person down the ladder. All simple but effective ways to move the camera around like it is dancing. Helmrich is like a Leonardo da Vinci dancing with a camera.

3. The Prosecutor, Stevens. A strong film about Luis Moreno-Ocampo, head of the International Criminal Court. It gives a clear insight in the many dillemmas and challenges of this court. Moreno is a megalomaniac but is there another way?

Worth mentioning:

The American coup, Ayella

Tabloid, Morris

Client 9, Gibney

Burma soldier, Dunlop, Sandberg and Stern


This summer I was so fortunate as to spend the first two weeks of July at an inspiring summer course in wonderful Budapest. The two days before the start of the summer course I spent cycling up and down the river Danube – crossing most of its eight bridges – and wandering in the 5th and 6th district. The beauty of the city is overwhelming and it can make you feel high by the impressive examples of architecture, the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Underground Railway, the second oldest in the world. This sounds like a quote from a travel guide but I can not help it: it’s all true.

On Monday the course ‘Media Development and Democratization: Understanding and Implementing Monitoring and Evaluation Programs’ started. For the schedule and the syllabus, please have a look here. In advance the period of two weeks seemed to be a long time but it proved to be too short. And that is a good sign. In this post I will only give some sound bites and quotes but this does not at all reflect the quality of the presenters and the value of the programme as a whole.

‘We journalists do not want to be monitored. However, the question is how monitoring and evaluations can enable journalists to do their work better.’ Gerry Power, director of Intermedia, talked about the need for M&E to give information that supports media organizations in their decision making process. They need information to act on. When people – readers, listeners, visitors – start talking about a television programme, does that also affect their daily lives? For me Powers presentation came down to:

1. Generic (research) questions will only give generic answers. Therefore: define better and finetune the questions before doing anything else. Use one, broad general question and specify into sub questions. The more precise the questions, the better the results.

2. Only ask questions to which the answers do not already exist. It is phenomenal what is sitting out there on the shelves. So do not reinvent the wheel and do not spend precious time and money on existing data.

Why do we care about M&E was the question with which Gordon Adam started his presentation. For the founder and managing director of Media Support Solutions the bottom line is the increasing importance of media projects and programmes in the past twenty years in developing countries. In theory there is a clear distinction to make between media for development and development of media. In reality they quite often are combined, are cooperating or are at least interrelated. Therefore many donors think media projects are important from a PR perspective. From this perspective these projects can work as showcases to proof the tax payers’ money is well spent.

Adam quoted Einstein: `Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count.’ And he stresses `to keep M&E short and simple’. For example most of the times two or three measurable indicators will do. Adam: `Keep your M&E plans simple, this can increase clarity and accuracy. Also the implementation of complex M&E plans (including panels and other surveys) is a lot of work.

So what needs to be done? According to Adam amongst others 1) academic research on new media to provide tools for quantitative surveys and 2) educate funders and ngo’s; if they have a better understanding of what media can and cannot achieve this can create more meaningful evaluation criteria.

Another media professional who shared his M&E views and experiences in Budapest was Daniel Bruce. The international media development consultant also stressed accuracy especially on the point: what do indicators actually tell us? Define these as exact as possible from the start. Check, double-check and cross check the indicators, the research questions but also the budget, deliverables and reporting. Bruce provided a top 10 of mistakes amongst which vague and/or too general indicators, incorrect use of buzz words (what do you mean with ‘baseline’), general language mistakes and impropriate timelines. It is as somebody put it: get out the grandmothers as participants in the evaluation of an hiv/aidsprogramme.

Susan Haas, doctoral candidate at Annenberg School for Communication, talked about ‘the beauty of focus groups. Her colleague Amalie Arsenault discussed how our organizations define media development. Are media used for development project (strategic use) or do you want to support and strengthen existing and new journalistic media with reporting and investigative journalism as core business? Arsenault presented a nice summary of the history of media development (incl The Golden Age of Media development in the eighties in Eastern Europe). According to Arsenault there is no way to track down how big the total budgets are that developing countries receive for media development.

Antonio Lambino presented – as a member of the CommGAP team – presented a very clear way of looking from a M&E perspective at the logframe. A logframe is a management tool mainly used in the design, monitoring and evaluation of international development projects. He linked activities, outputs, purpose to the goal with the ‘if & then logic’ that underlies the logframe. If the assumptions stay unchanged, the if then thinking will lead to the goal to be achieved in the long-term. It is a step by step process, based on a good framework and a theory of change and finding agreement on the manageable bits. ‘Promising the moon is especially problematic with media development projects because expectations are often too high’

Sofie Jannusch coordinates the knowledge sharing initiative MediaME from within the German development organisation Cameco. ‘Media development professionals are not delivering enough proof. Very few look deeper into the effects of the work that has been done. Therefore we started two years ago with Media ME. It is a collaborative initiative by many organisations and individual experts engaged in media development to offer resources and discussion about best practices in monitoring and evaluation in this area.’ The wiki project still has a half-year to go before the budget runs out. Jannusch was using her time to recruit new, enthusiastic co-workers. She succeeded because at least three people from the course volunteered as participants.

Maureen Taylor from the University Oklahoma stressed the long-term perspective. `Keep in mind the long-term goal of assistance. Do not reinvent the wheel and there is no need to repeat mistakes made earlier. We spent more time collecting data than analyzing them.’ One of her practical suggestions, almost made in a sideline, was to spent at least one full day in the newsroom of your grantee/partner organization.

Sheldon Himelfarb works for the US Institute of Peace, funded and founded by the US Congress. Its goal is to design media interventions for fragile societies. Himelfarb focused on the process as a strict and standardized way of doing things. For this he used the example of aircrafts taking off and landing every minute from boats in a war situation). ‘This aircraft procedure is not a repetition but a well established process, clear and transparent.’ Himelfarb represented the clear cut US methods of approaching development evaluations. His presentation raised many questions mostly because many participants thought aircrafts are incomparable with development projects.

Course director Susan Abbott introduced most of the speakers and provided a kind of summary after the presentations. Like such as: integrate M&E into the media programme and projects when possible from the beginning until the end. Always look for a shared/collaborative approach. Change never is a one-way street. When there is donor coordination – which is the ideal situation – seek common ground for indicators used.

This course once more reinforced my idea that development work has more to do with art than with science; the art of balancing between instinct and a programmatic way of thinking. The presenters were very knowledgeable, open for all kinds of questions and remarks and in that way provided us with sound insights of the M&E field. Just as the multi-cultural diversity of my class and the perfect blend of academic theory with practice added up to the value of the course. Thereby the programme was managed in a very smooth and enjoyable way. This combination made these two weeks into an experience that I will not easily forget. Moreover; my gut feeling tells me there will be a long-term spin off: in lessons learned, experiences shared and the network connections made.

From here I thank again the great team behind the course: Susan Abbott, Eva Bognar, Kate Coyer and Amelia Arsenault. They stood firm but fair, are among the vanguard of M&E with regard to media, know how to keep a group of individuals together and – very important – they know how to party.

Some of the relevant websites mentioned:

Audience Scapes

Freedom on the Net, FreedomHouse

Media Sustainibility Index, IREX

Media Policy, by Marius Dragomir and Mark Thompson from the OSI Media Programme

Makutano Junction (case)

Kitchen Budapest (fieldtrip)

Radio C and Tilos Radio (fieldtrip)

Radio Okapi, DRC (case)

Propublica, investigative journalism in the public intrest

Global Voices Online

Radio Free Europe

Reporters sans Frontiers

Some M&E literature

Evaluating the evaluators, CIMA

Media Development indicators, IPDC

Media map, Internews

Africa Media Development Initiative

Ten steps to a result based monitoring (pdf), Worldbank, Kusek/Rist

The Road to results, Worldbank, Imas/Rist

Real World Evaluation, Bamberger/Rugh/Mabry

Several M&E guides

Evaluation for DFID

Good, but how good, CIMA

Evaluation Manual, CIDA

Outcome Mapping, IDRC

Glossary key terms in evaluation and results, OECD

For more guides and manuals