Civic Lenses is a project for transparent and accountable political processes through support and popularization of citizen journalism, awareness-raising, civic education and activism of citizens towards human rights, freedom of
expression, democracy, and free elections. This is a project that provides training and opportunities for citizens to participate, observe and report on events that are important to them, their local communities and processes at local and national level.
This project has grown into an important tool for citizens to remind authorities and officials of their obligation to be transparent and accountable. Two very successful years of implementation of the Civic Lenses project are behind
CIVIL. Hundreds of active citizens from various walks of life and all communities in the country (over 500 of them so far), have been trained in citizen journalism, human rights, media literacy, monitoring and reporting skills. We have incorporated methodologies and approaches tested within the Civic Lenses Project in other projects of CIVIL, as well.

Citizen journalists around the world have enormous power. Thanks to the accessible technology and the Internet, they have the opportunity to expose violations and abuses by power holders, and contribute to the strengthening of freedom of expression.

If some time ago we had to wait for corrupt media and editors to publish alarming stories on violation of human rights, usually without any success, now we can do this ourselves, with the help of our smart phones and social networks. These days, citizen journalists are recording short video stories with visibility that easily
exceed the circulation of newspapers or the audience of popular TV stations.

Cooperation of CSOs with citizens is extremely important. CSOs and citizens need to become one. As always, CIVIL relies on that cooperation in order to arrive to information and stories on what is really happening in society. Even though CIVIL had only 300 observers at the parliamentary elections, the responses from around the country and the contributions of citizen journalists have made CIVIL’s mission much greater and impactful. CIVIL’s elections observation , just as the human rights monitoring, is a joint mission of the organization’s crew and the many active citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation or social status of
the sources.

The CIVIL crew is also proud to confirm that the organization reflects Macedonia on all grounds of diversity, and enjoys enormous trust and support from citizens throughout the country. CIVILians are making all efforts to justify that trust, every day. In these stressful times for the country and the region, when accuracy of information
is highly needed, information and stories are at hand, precisely because of the courage and commitment of the citizen journalists.

Citizen journalism is defined and explained to all CIVIL election observers; 300 observers were accredited by the State Election Commission for the early parliamentary elections in 2016. They were encouraged to use these skills during their work as observers. We have encouraged many organizations across the country to follow CIVIL’s successful example, and to advise their members to take part in the training seminars and other activities within the project. Some certainly have.

Some media in the country, including traditional ones, have finally comprehended the value of citizen journalism and activism as both source and resource, and have included them in their programming in various ways, including those similar to ours.

This project, as is the case with other projects of CIVIL, represents the efforts of the organization to successfully intervene where many others fail. One of the reasons for the success of our projects is the genuine and sincere commitment of the organization’s crew, working as one, to create and uphold a civic oriented media resource for development of a democratic society where politicians and officials are demanded to be responsible and accountable.

Apart from gaining new skills or developing new ones, participants in the Civic Lenses Project also get the opportunity to improve their knowledge on human rights, elections and political culture, and have the opportunity to work in the field, together with CIVIL’s highly experienced team. Some of them get incorporated in
CIVIL’s team, while many remain active supporters and members of observation teams across the country, or join other organizations to pass on the unique CIVIL experience.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT: Citizen journalists contribute towards creating free and independent media, and push towards transparent and accountable political processes in delicate times for the country. Since CIVIL has introduced citizen journalism in the observation of human rights and of elections,
the public has been alerted, and so have violators. Violation of human rights and freedoms are not invisible anymore; they can easily and instantly become known to the public, through contributions of citizen journalists.
Censorship and self-censorship have become worthless tools of those who want to control information and public opinion. Citizen journalism has breached the boundaries set by political and financial power structures, and has opened a new era in the information dissemination across the media and society universes. If an editor
of a media decides to conceal information brought by a journalist, the same information created by an activist may go viral in seconds. Moreover, traditional media suffer from many hindrances. They are slower than citizen journalists. This comes out of the genuine call of media to provide high quality and relevance of the media
content. But, tardiness is most often a consequence of the robust procedures and pressure. An activist (citizen journalist) with a smart phone in hand is a lone warrior in the Internet jungle, unchained by influences and pressure, bringing facts and truth to light.
CIVIL has recognized the momentum and has offered one more important strength to the whole story. Citizen journalists, activists and whistleblowers have a safe space for their contributions, making sure that their stories are supported and processed by a professional crew and, most importantly, their identity is also protected.

Anonymity is particularly important for those who may face retributions by employers or belligerent individuals and groups in the community. In times when institutions are still unstable and the rule of law is weak, contributions
of citizens who are aware and active, represent a precious asset for the society, and pave the way towards creating conditions for citizen participation in decision making processes and development of democracy as a whole. For citizen participation does not begin with a legislative measure, but with genuine effort to introduce it as a consistent and longstanding policy and practice!

This post is also available in: Macedonian