Bringing hope to Sri Lanka: IREX’s mobile journalism project
In June, IREX hosted Sri Lanka’s first mobile journalism festival, Mojo Lanka. MoJo Lanka’s aim was to support Sri Lankans in using mobile journalism—or digital storytelling produced with smartphones—to develop stories that inspire hope. The festival also highlighted the success of CitizensConnect, a mobile journalism program under IREX’s Media Empowerment for a Democratic Sri Lanka (MEND) project.
Supporting citizen journalism in Sri Lanka is essential. Over the past three years, the country has experienced a series of crises. The pandemic nearly destroyed tourism, which was one of the country’s economic lifelines, and the war in Ukraine contributed to the price of bread and fuel increasing to the point where many Sri Lankans could barely feed their families. Growing discontent with the government’s response to these disasters paved the way for the Aragalaya1, a series of mass protests that ultimately forced the resignation of the president and prime minister in 2022.
Against this backdrop, citizen-driven storytelling is a powerful tool in reducing polarization and building trust and connection. Citizen journalists are positioned to capture stories of the resilience and tenacity of the Sri Lanken people who are acting in this time of crisis. CitizensConnect training emphasizes mobile journalism as a democratic and easily accessible approach available to citizen journalists. The training included guidance on how to capture stories often ignored by the mainstream press.
Transforming lives through storytelling
In celebration of mobile journalism in Sri Lanka, MoJo Lanka featured the work of some of CitizensConnect contributors, among them Hasaranga Fernando, a filmmaker whose pieces have provided hope and inspiration to millions.
Through his lens, Hasaranga brings to life stories about ordinary individuals and sheds light on their struggles and triumphs. “I believe that several of my videos have brought about significant transformations in people's lives,” said Hasaranga. “For instance, one video showcased the journey of an aspiring woman who crafts art from gems. After the release of this video, she experienced a surge in orders from new customers, including large-scale projects.”
Hasaranga has produced more than 50 videos for CitizensConnect. Some pieces like “Restaurant where you can eat for free” have received more than 1.1 million views, 22,000 shares, and more than 22,500 comments. “I love every video I create,” Hasaranga said. “Being able to share something that truly resonates with me, like these stories, brings me immense joy.”
IREX has been at the forefront of supporting and advancing citizen-led, mobile journalism in Sri Lanka and will continue this effort with PRO-INFO, a project funded by USAID and carried out under CSM-STAND. PRO-INFO will work across Sri Lanka, helping to transform the information sphere by bringing new voices into the ecosystem, helping citizens acquire the tools they need to separate fact from fiction, and assisting independent media in building financial sustainability.
You can view the work of Hasaranga Fernando and other citizen journalists on the CitizensConnect Facebook page.