In Asia, journalists innovate, defend press freedom with smartphones

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 03 2019 12:03 PM

BANGKOK -- Journalists here showcased how smartphone-driven content can transform how news is told, helping in the fight to defend press freedom in Asia.

Mobile journalism is agile, young and discreet, "which makes it very handy or useful in countries where press freedom is an issue," said Christoph Grabitz, media program director for Asia at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, which organized the conference.

“Asia is very much advanced when it comes to digitalization. On the other hand, press freedom is a shrinking issue in Asia,” Grabitz said. “We think mobile journalism can be or should be the answer.”

More than 200 journalists from 30 countries gathered in the Thai capital for the very first Mobile Journalism Conference Asia last Friday. Three ABS-CBN journalists were among the participants.

Panel sessions tackled various issues related to mobile journalism, such as opportunities and limitations for news production, storytelling, community engagement and training.

Workshops featured veteran journalists who have shifted to mobile journalism and young media men and women who have used smartphones to tell unconventional stories.


Leonor Suarez, a mobile video journalist from Spain, showed how she shot and edited a 50-minute documentary on the Spanish civil war using her smartphone.

“There are people who think that it is not possible to shoot and edit an entire documentary on mobile devices. It’s indeed possible to do it. You can do whatever you need to do as a journalist,” Suarez said.

Suarez said she first became interested in the Spanish civil war after she discovered bullets buried in her garden. Her research unearthed stories that she wanted to translate into film.

“Back then it was 2014. This was not mainly the kind of story I could shoot for my station. I needed to produce it by myself. But I did not have the skills to do that,” said Suarez, who worked as a television anchor.

Her documentary “Time to Revenge” has become one of the best examples of long-form storytelling using mobile journalism. She also won a Thomson Foundation Mobile Journalism Award in 2016 for her mobile journalism piece on Bolivian silver mines.


For Nesar Fayzi, who works as a visual journalist for the Associated Press in Afghanistan, his mobile phone has kept him safe while pursuing dangerous stories.

“I have a professional camera kit but I can’t travel with it,” he said as he recalled entering Taliban-controlled territory for one of his reports.

He also put his phone to good use when he had to shoot a notorious drug den under a bridge in Kabul.

Fayzi said many journalists have tried to cover the story but were always turned away by drug addicts threatening to hurt them.

Freelance journalist Sara Hteit from Lebanon discussed how easy it is to film with a smartphone when dealing with sensitive issues.

Hteit also talked about her work training Syrian refugees on how to use mobile phones to tell their stories.

“What we aim for is to let the refugees report from their refugee camp,” she said, explaining how important it is for refugees to tell their own stories.


Among the new forms of mobile journalism explored during the conference was the use of 360 cameras and drones with smartphones.

China Daily's DJ Clark gave a workshop on how to choose the right kind of drone, as well as the risks involved when flying one.

“Privacy is an important issue,” Clark said, warning participants against flying over populated and congested areas of cities.

Lakshmi Sarah gave a masterclass on 360 storytelling, including the kinds of software to use when editing footage of such unique format.

Konstantinos Antonopoulos, Instagram lead of Al Jazeera English, taught participants how to utilize the vertical video format for the social media accounts of their news organizations.

“It’s where the future is,” he said of vertical videos, which are now being used by popular social media sites.

Among the highlights of the conference was the keynote speech of media leader Suthichai Yoon who co-founded The Nation, the first English-language newspaper in Thailand.

“Things are changing,” he said as he narrated how he embraced technology with the advent of mobile phones and later Facebook Live.

He said media organizations are facing a storm but “not everyone will survive.” He believes that only those who adapt technologically will succeed.

Today, the septuagenarian Yoon is known for his daily online videos and podcasts with political and entertainment personalities.

With the success of the conference, KAS Media Programme Asia announced that it will hold another mobile journalism conference next year.

Established in 1996 to promote a free and ethical press in the Asian region, KAS Media Programme Asia has been providing scholarships for Asian journalists. Its program at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Asian Center for Journalism has allowed many Filipino journalists to pursue graduate studies.