Articles review on the net, revue d'articles sur la toile

Inscription : feeds, flux :
(Atom) Gabriel Real World News

01 février 2006

Capturing Human Rights Abuse

Witness, activist and musician Peter Gabriel's human rights organization, wants to build a Web site that documents offenses on video

Musician Peter Gabriel may be best known for hits such as Solsbury Hill and Sledgehammer, but his songs have often had a political edge, as well. His 1980 track Biko, for example, was an homage to South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, who died in prison in 1977. Gabriel continues to make music -- he'll sing at the Turin Winter Olympics this month -- but he has been devoting an increasing amount of his time to social causes.

One such cause is Witness (, an organization based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that trains human-rights advocates to use video cameras to document abuses. Gabriel helped found the group in 1992 and is now chairman of its board of directors.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Gabriel and Gillian Caldwell, a documentary filmmaker who's executive director of Witness, tried to round up corporate support for a new project: a Web site that would act as a portal for images of human rights violations that may be captured by the proliferating number of video cameras and mobile phones in the hands of people around the world. BusinessWeek European Regional Editor Jack Ewing spoke to Gabriel and Caldwell about the project. Gabriel, who was an investor in digital music venture On Demand Distribution -- he sold his stake in 2004 at a profit -- also spoke about the current state of the music industry and its battle to come to terms with digital distribution. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Tell us about Witness. What is it, and how did it get started?

In 1988 there was an Amnesty International Human Rights Now Tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration.... We went around the world and doubled Amnesty's membership. The experience of meeting people who had been tortured, who had watched their families being killed -- suddenly it became real for me and not something I was just reading about.

One of the things that was most shocking was that people who had experienced these things then had their stories completely denied, buried, and forgotten. Whenever there were good pictures or video material, it was a great deal harder to [deny]. In a way Witness grew out of the technical innovation of the video age. Suddenly there was a small [video] camera that was affordable.

Now we have yet another technical innovation. The telephone with video is becoming cheap and commonplace. So that's a wonderful opportunity. The dream is -- what we're trying to hustle here -- is to create a portal like Google (GOOG ) Earth where you could fly over the world and find human-rights stories wherever they were occurring. People would have the capacity to upload material of a certain length unfiltered.

Are you here trying to get corporate support or just raise awareness?

All of those things. Actually we've had some wonderful conversations. It seems to be an idea which is gaining acceptance. There are other projects beginning to understand the social, transformative power of the digital revolution. So I think we're here at the right time.

Caldwell: There has been a lot of conversation about how the media business model is changing. Some of the press are really thinking in creative ways of how they can capitalize on citizen journalism. We've had interest from the BBC, Reuters, Yahoo! (YHOO ), CNN (TWX ). We are in a good position to provide powerful and extremely authentic content. Because of the financial conditions that media faces these days, they don't have as much capacity to do reporting around the world. Organizations at a local level have trust and connections that the media can't get parachuting in.

So traditional media could take content off your site and use it in news reports?

Right. We've already started building quite a large archive. Our aim is to try to provide that video archive for the human rights movement.

What has been the corporate response?

Really encouraging. If we had had one good conversation, it would have made the trip worthwhile. I think we had about six or seven. What actually materializes will be another question, but so far we are extremely encouraged.

Are there any corporations already supporting you?

Marc Benioff, [founder of the San Francisco-based provider of customer relationship management software], has been allowing us to use some of his facilities [including a contact database].

Caldwell: [Law firm] Baker & Hostetler does all of our legal support pro bono. We had an encouraging conversation with Paul Sagan, [president and CEO of] Akamai, [a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based provider of Internet services for business], about the possibility of providing pro bono hosting of the content.

Gabriel: We can have CEO meetings here in a way we couldn't anywhere else. People conducting business don't want to be hassled all the time by the likes of us. But there's a culture here of encouraging people to think a little more generously.

The debate comes up every year at Davos about celebrities using their fame for social good. What's your take on that?

Well, it makes our lives a lot more interesting.... Celebrities shouldn't take on causes in a trivial way. They should find things that mean something to them and do their homework, so that they can speak as articulately as they are able, and then hand over to the people doing the real work.

Back to Witness. What kind of content do you have already?

We worked in Senegal with an organization trying to raise awareness of the fact that there were thousands of land-mine victims every year who weren't getting any medical support or psychological assistance that they are entitled to. We developed a film that was screened before several [officials]. This is what we call tactical media. While we're interested in broader media, the most influential use of the video that we're producing is actually targeted screenings before those key decision makers.

As a direct result, Senegalese land-mine victims now have two significant grants related to micro-enterprise development and a new wing on a hospital to build prosthetic limbs. The point is to also identify the solutions. This isn't just a name-and-shame game. People want to make it right if you give them the opportunity.

Are people already sending tapes or images from mobile phones?

We haven't had the structure to do that. That's the next challenge.

Caldwell: Implementation will be in the next 12 months. That's what we're shooting for, although we need financial support.

How will you keep control of the content?

We hope there will be some sort of self-regulating system. People, in order to get content uploaded, would have to rate three or four other pieces of material [on the site]. My country [England] is the most observed country in the world. I think the average person gets filmed eight times a day. The aim here is to turn the cameras back.

You were previously an investor in a digital music venture. From a musician's point of view, is the industry coming to terms with digital downloads, or is it still a huge problem?

If you make it easy for people to get what they want, and it's well filtered, people will pay. Maybe not as much as record companies and some artists would like, but probably enough. [I see] two models for the music business in the future: the old-fashioned model where record companies own the artists and their work; the other where the artists are in control and they use the record companies as a service.

Aucun commentaire: