By Tanya Notley and Julie Fisher

VIDEO: Burma VJ tells the story of independent Burmese reporters who used pocket-sized video cameras and a networked approach to expose the repressive regime controlling their country, following a people’s uprising.

In our last post we looked at three (historical) approaches to ‘doing’ video for change: guerilla video, participatory video and social documentary video. In this post we examine the final three approaches we have documented in our literature review. Again, we focus here on the most critical characteristics of these different approaches in order to consider how they may shape the way impact is understood and measured.

Video advocacy: By the time we start to find the term ‘video advocacy’ being adopted in the 1980s camera ownership had become far more common among everyday citizens. In 1991 footage of African-American Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers for a traffic violation, was played on networked news channels around the world. This footage had been recorded by a man watching the incident from his apartment window and this is considered to be one of the first citizen eyewitness video recordings of human rights violations. The footage, and its dissemination around the world, inspired the development of the organization, WITNESS, the following year. By the end of the 1990s ‘video advocacy’ was a term they used to describe the use of video to address clearly defined aspirations for social change. Video advocacy remains a popular approach to video-making and it often has a focus on changing laws and policies (corporate and government) as well as contributing to legal justice. But as can be seen with the work of organsiations like Video Volunteers, the focus can be on legal and policy change while also equally emphasising elements considered critical to participatory video (see our last post) or community media such as empowerment processes, media diversity and media representation.

Communication for development and communication for change (where video is used): Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron notes that terms like “communication for development”, “development communication” and “development support communication” were used by a number of international organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other UN agencies since the 1960s, but that uses of these terms, particularly ‘communication for development’, become more prevalent in the decades that followed.[1] The term “communication for social change” was popularised by Gumucio-Dagron and colleagues at the Communication for Social Change Consortium starting in 1997.[2] Both ‘communication for social change’ and ‘communication for development’ are focused on understanding how communication can be used to develop a vision for, implement and evaluate development. Communication for Change, however, very explicitly focuses on a community-centric approach to development. Neither of these approaches necessarily focus on the use of video but there are many examples of this. For example, the US-based Communication for Change focuses exclusively on the use of video.

Citizen journalism video and witnessing video: The increasing accessibility of the internet and cheap video recording devices, particularly starting in the 2000s, has led to a dramatic shift in both the production and distribution of video by everyday citizens. As Stuart Allen and Nik Gowing have pointed out[3], the widespread use of the terms ‘citizen journalist’ and ‘citizen witness’ emerged after major political/social events such as the London Bombings 2005 (‘7/7’) and the 2007 Burmese people’s uprising or anti-government protests (the ‘Saffron Revolution’ as documented in the film BurmaVJ). In both cases citizen’s still and video images became the most viewed and emblematic depictions of these major crises. It’s hard to imagine a crisis today not being documented from multiple angles by citizens equipped with cheap recording devices, often built into mobile phones. But is this kind of documentation really Video for Change if creating change was not the motivation for recording? Certainly the experience relayed in the film Burma VJ pushes us to think about how the lines between professional journalism and witnessing video approaches can be quite blurred. In Burma VJ we learn how video was filmed and smuggled out of Burma during the uprising by people working for and connected to the Democratic Voice of Burma, described as “an independent media organisation committed to responsible journalism.” These journalists were independent and they were motivated by a desire to create social change. They also witnessed events unfolding and collected footage from citizen’s who had captured events and who supported their efforts. But how is what they did different from regular journalism and can it be considered a Video for Change example?

What’s missing?
The approaches listed in this and our last post may not represent a ‘taxonomy’ of video for social change. Some approaches could perhaps be discarded while others might be missing (like youth media videos as someone pointed out in a  comment on our last post or perhaps entertainment-education videos, or social media and remix video). What we have learnt by thinking about the values and foci of these different approaches is that there are many different ways to support change efforts through the use of video; any attempt to develop a framework for measuring impact will need to understand this, if it is to be widely adopted.


[1] Personal communication with Tanya Notley
[2] Personal communication with Tanya Notley
[3] Allen, S. (2013) Citizen Witnessing. Cambridge: Polity Press.; Gowing, N. (2009) Skkyful of Lies and Black Swans. Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Download: