Online Influencers: New Perspectives on Social Change (Live Event)

The age of digitalization and social media empowers young bloggers and journalists to get their voices heard and influence politics and society. RNW Media has organized an event where a number of these online influencers will talk about how they are shaping the future of journalism – an issue not just relevant for the case of China, but for the world at large.

What are the challenges bloggers are facing in China today? How can blogging help create tolerance in a divided society? These are the issues addressed at today’s event about New Perspectives on Social Change at the RNW headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

The speakers at today’s event are Chinese blogger and journalist Yuan Chang, who will focus on the challenges facing bloggers in the PRC; Dacia Munezero (@mdacia), co-founder of the influential Yaga bloggers project in Burundi, who will explain how blogging can help create tolerance in a divided society; and Abir Sarras (@abirsarras), coordinator of Love Matters Arabic, who will talk about the recent trial of an Egyptian blogger (RNW event page).

Director RNW Media Robert Zaal (@RobertZaal) welcomes today’s audiences. Today’s host is mass media researcher and author Piet Bakker (@pietbakker). “Digital first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.”

“Digital comes first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.” This is what today’s event is about:

The Challenges Facing Bloggers in China

Yuan Chang is a Chinese blogger and journalist. He has worked for the New York Times, and is now a blogger for RNW. He speaks about censorship and online freedom.

“There is a small space between hardcore politics and personal rights in China,” Yuan Chang says. “Censorship in China is not a black and white issue. The PRC is not North Korea. There is a small space of freedom, and that is where I move around.”

“In China, we work with a VPN [virtual private network] to get access to the sites that are blocked. It is getting harder and harder as the Great Firewall of China is getting more sophisticated all the time, but we always find a way to circumvent it.”

“With my blogging, I never got any real problems. I was censored before, but I am still here. When I worked for the New York Times, the police did in fact give me a call multiple times – but that is not really surprising when you work for foreign media as a Chinese citizen.”

“In Europe, people fuss about privacy a lot. In China, we don’t fuss about it, because we know they know everything about us. They would give me a call and say: ‘Ah, you’re back in China for the summer, why don’t you relax for a while now and don’t work – remember you still have a Chinese passport.’ For me, I don’t worry too much about it. It is actually transparent: I know they know everything I do.”

“I have no expectations of foreign companies like Facebook or Google in China. For them, it is business first, and they will not help to overcome censorship. Instead, these kind of companies impose self-censorship.”

“There will not be a big change in China because of what is happening online now. It will take a lot of little changes before, slowly but surely, a bigger change will come about.”

Burundi: Blogging as a Bridge in a Divided Society

Burundi blogger Dacia Munezero would have been here today, Piet Bakker (@pietbakker) says, but the circumstances in her country unfortunately did not allow her to come.

In this video she talks about the letter she wrote to the wife of President Pierre Nkurunziza, which she wrote out of sheer desperation over the current crisis in her country.

Antoine Kaburahe , director of the Iwacu media group, has come to talk about the situation in Burundi: “Last year there was an attempt at a coup in Burundi. During this night, all traditional media were destroyed. This was the moment where bloggers, like the Yaga network, but also Twitter and Facebook, really exploded.”

“Those platforms were the only windows to the world for us at that point. We in Burundi live in a radio culture, but nowadays most people have smartphones. So when the credible radio station suddenly disappeared, these smartphones became our source of media.”

“My father was a journalist as well, and he created the first Catholic newspaper of Burundi. This is why I also wanted to start a newspaper, which also works with social media and Web TV. I believe I have enough impact now – I don’t need to make radio.”

“Our regime does not like social media. Dacia already says [in the video] how she was threatened after sending a letter to the first lady – this is what happens. It might happen that we are cut off from Internet completely – we don’t know.”

Talking about Sex and Online Freedom in Egypt

Ahmed Naji would be one of the speakers with Abir Sarras today. Ahmed Naji is a journalist, blogger and published author in Egypt who was prosecuted last year (read more). “Ten days ago the court found that Ahmed was innocent,” Abir Sarras, producer of the Arabic blog Love Matters, says: “But it was overruled and he has not off the hook yet.” Abir Sarras will talk about her work and online freedom in Egypt here.

Love Matters is the first blog about love and sexual health in Egypt, it is an encyclopedia about everything related to sexual health – from lovemaking to pregnancy. We use a big network of bloggers from the region. People who blog for us talk about things that are actually taboo – we give them a platform to talk about these things.”

“The blog has only been around for 1,5 years, but it is already very popular. There is a real lack of information. People learn all their lives that sex is taboo, and when they get married, they suddenly are expected to know what to do during their wedding night. Porn is actually very well-watched in Arabic countries. Actually – in the areas where ISIS is most active, there is a lot of porn viewing going on.”

“We talk about health risks and points of focus when you want to try different things. We have also done an item about anal sex.”

“We are online – we are ‘outside’ – and that makes us safe. Also, a lot of experts are endorsing our content. We are a scientific website, and we try to keep away from religion. We don’t criticize it, but we do try to balance out the [sexual] advice people have got from their religious background.”

*This blog is now closed. *

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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