LAGOS, NIGERIA – The use of ICT by “citizen journalists” has forced traditional media to engage the public proactively, according to Fackson Banda, a communications professor and speaker at last week’s 2008 Highway Africa Conference.

“What citizen journalism does is to allow ordinary people to have access to the new means of media production and use them in any way they want, and, hopefully, positively,” Banda said in an interview following a session at the conference in Grahamstown, South Africa, which was devoted to citizen journalism and civic education. Banda holds the SAB Ltd. UNESCO chair of media and democracy at Rhodes University, which hosted the conference.

During the recent Kenyan election, the use of GSM (global system for mobile communications) value-added services like SMS (short messaging service), or texting, was an example of ICT being used to communicate in a negative fashion, Banda said. “We know that text messaging was used in a very negative way to fan ethnic violence in Kenya,” he said.

In any case, citizen journalism has become a force to be reckoned with as ICT has succeeded in bestowing the power to communicate on the public, Banda said.

The audience for citizen journalism, however, is unquantifiable — at least for the moment, Banda noted. “But now we know citizen journalism allows for messages to be sent from one point to many points.” In addition, citizen journalism offers the general public a new avenue of communication, which could pose a threat to traditional journalism, Banda said.

This paves the way for a symbiotic relationship between the old and new media, because when citizen journalism becomes a threat to traditional journalists, it forces the traditional media to open up by proactively engaging the public, he said.

There are traditional journalists “who have appropriated new media technologies in positive ways to incorporate citizen voices into what they do,” Banda added.