Empowering Through Citizen Journalism

A case study of Delhi Gang Rape- Nirbhaya  

Ms. Kaveri Devi Mishra *


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead

At a time when the mainstream media is seen diverting from its objective and focusing more on profit- making motive many social and vital issues and stories relating to the masses are either neglected or rejected by the media. It has led to a huge gap between issues reported and neglected. To bridge this gap a new concept and trend of participatory journalism has slowly but steadily emerged across the globe known as public or participatory journalism, popularly known as “Citizen Journalism”. It is a form of journalism when any common man in his capacity as a citizen, irrespective of his or her educational qualification or profession, takes up an initiative to express idea. The citizens play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging, and relevant information that a democracy like India requires. This concept is now being explored via new media and technology that facilitates the reach to a large number of audiences with or without the support of mainstream media. This paper evaluates and analyzes the emergence, trend and role of Citizen Journalism. The larger impact of the citizens gaining voice in the mainstream media and society and analyze its role during the Delhi Gang rape – the Nirbhaya case of 2012. The paper at the end raises concerns about the ethics and to what extent unfiltered information can reach the masses and strike a balance in the society.


Citizen journalism is bringing out vital issues to mainstream for debate and discussion and is increasingly being recognized as a powerful force. In India it is definitely helping people to raise and address issues that affect them. It has revolutionized the media in the country; it is influencing and making an impact on the mainstream media. It has become a powerful tool for citizens to report the news that touches their lives.

Till a few years ago, the concept of citizen journalism did not have much effect on the media or the citizens. The Right to Information Act 2005 proved to be a tool for information. Then technology empowered every citizen to be informed and updated through social media, internet and mobile technology. Thus Citizen Journalism became a phenomenon explored via new media and technology that facilitated the reach to large audiences with or without the support of mainstream media. This new genre of journalism is an important initiative towards the democratization of the media. It has added to the growing voices comprised of blogs and social media that analyze and debate social issues and stories appearing in the mainstream media and collectively raise the voices of the citizens that often bring in a change in the system. The rise of citizen journalism is linked to the notion of active citizenship and the need to strengthen democratic governance. 

There are abundant opportunities for ordinary citizens as anybody can be a citizen journalist to express views and highlight issues so that the society is aware, informed and actively participates in media discourse. With its popularity no longer in question, even the national media around the world are sourcing leads from stories and pictures filed by Citizen Journalists. The advantage of this medium is that audiences witnessing incidents can post eyewitness accounts on the internet as soon as they happen or send reports and photos to the media.

Citizen Journalists gained voice during the Delhi Gang Rape 2012 – “Nirbhaya” (Braveheart)

India in general and Delhi especially has recorded many incidents of crimes, atrocities and violence against women. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)  data – 572 rapes were reported in Delhi in 2011, the number rose to over 800 in 2012  highest in the last 10 years making it India’s “rape capital”. 

But for the first time in the history of India the power of citizens through social media was seen and the impact was tremendous during the Delhi Gang Rape – the rape and murder of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern in a bus in which she was traveling with her male companion on December 16, 2012 in New Delhi. The young woman died from her injuries thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore. The media called the young victim as Nirbhaya – a braveheart. Nirbhaya’s case was able to deeply reach the hearts of the people irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or age. The incident made the general public’s collective anger to explode and come out on the streets. If not for collective efforts of the people, the Nirbhyaya incident would have been another case of violence in the capital city, it would just be another girl, another daughter, another child who was another victim in a society that didn’t see rape as a crime, but just a common act. Although the public would be outraged and angered by violence against another young victim, nothing would change. The United Nations Human rights chief calls rapes in India a “national problem”. A woman in India invites social stigma if she goes to the police to report rape or any other kind of violence. Unfortunately, the fact is that only one in three such cases are reported that end in a conviction. An astonishing aspect of the nationwide protests, especially at India Gate in New Delhi, was that it was never called by any political party, mass leader, celebrity or religious leader. It was a people’s movement and it was the conscience of the people that made them come out and demand justice for Nirbhaya.

For the first time in the history of India the anger, outrage and power of citizens was seen via social media. Millions of youngsters come on the streets to protest against the heinous crime and expressed their views through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and started online petitions in India. The incident caught the attention of the people worldwide. Citizens not only connected themselves and expressed their views on social media it became a platform and a place for meeting and connecting with others. Many citizens came forward to report the events. As Citizen Journalists they were actively posting photographs and videos online and the mainstream media was taking user generated content.  The young technology savvy Indians spread the national outrage across the country and were united in voicing their opinions against the weak law and the flaws in our legal system. The Delhi gang rape news was everywhere on the social media and online even as the television channels were airing the news round the clock. People were constantly on their mobile phones, every news was updated on their cell phone via Facebook, Twitter and other sites and blogs. The result was that it made headlines not only in India but across the world.

Platform for Citizen Journalism

The Nirbhaya news caught the attention of the entire mainstream media but a new trend was witnessed and the power of citizens through Citizen Journalism was actively playing a role. Citizens on the ground were reporting the developments as they happened and reported on social media and posted their videos and comments on twitter. The mainstream media added a section in their news bulletins and programs called “Citizen News & Views” along with comments on Twitter, Youtube videos and so on. The Delhi gang rape demonstrated how citizen journalism has really come to the fore. The savagery of the attack and the government’s weak response had provoked demonstrations throughout India, deploring the lackadaisical attitude of the leaders and the failure of the system to protect women.

Change.org, an online petition “Stop Rape Now” was initiated by former journalist Namita Bhandare, seeking the intervention of President Pranab Mukherjee and Chief Justice of India. The online petition was signed by more than 65,000 who sought immediate action from the government and the judiciary to prevent such incidents. Twitter, with 16 million users in India, has been abuzz with news of the protests, making “Rashtrapati Bhavan”, and “Raisina Hill” the top trending words in India.

On Facebook the largest user base in India of more than 10 groups was created to bring people together for the cause. A Facebook group invited over 23,000 people and more than 2,100 agreed to participate, calling an “Aurat Bandh” Day when women across the country will not work or take care of their families until the issue is addressed. The Centre for Social Work in Mumbai organised a protest at Juhu to collect signatures for a petition demanding capital punishment for the six alleged rapists. It was initiated by a student, Shruti Upadhyay, and an online campaign started on Facebook, titled “Enough is enough” to express solidarity. On Google Trends search volume index, “Delhi gang rape,” “Rape in Delhi” and “Gang-rape victim” was among the top search phrases in India that December, reaching a peak after the young victim’s death. The highest volumes were from Delhi and neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Adhvith Dhuddu, founder and CEO of Bangalore-based social media management firm “Alive Now” said that this was the first time that people utilised the online medium effectively for a social change wherein they raised their voices through social media, through online agitation demanding the lawmakers to act and make the society safe for women.

Today there are many channels that have exclusive programs featuring reports and stories filed by “Citizen Journalists” to encourage and create a formal platform for Citizen Journalists. It includes TV channels like IBN Live and Headlines Today that telecast CJ Show and Right to be Heard (RTH) on a weekly basis. The programs have gained popularity over a period of time. In addition to TV channels, we have various websites like the Citizen Media Network, an open forum platform to nurture and promote citizen journalism from all walks of life. The citizens express themselves through new media tools and get trained in digital journalism methods and techniques. Popular websites like merinews.com, ww.reportindia.com, http://www.indiaonline.in.cj, http://www.mynews.in and many more websites provide a platform for Citizen Journalists in India and South Asia. 

Review of Literature

Citizen journalism is the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information”, according to the seminal report, “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information” by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis. Their report says, “The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.” In 2003 in an Online Journalism Review article, J. D. Lasica classifies media for citizen journalism into the following types: 1) Audience participation (such as user comments attached to news stories, personal blogs, photos or video footage captured from personal mobile cameras, or local news written by residents of a community), 2) Independent news and information Websites, 3) Full-fledged participatory news sites, 5) Other kinds of “thin media” (Mailing lists, email newsletters), and 6) Personal broadcasting sites.

The term citizen journalist did not exist before the advent of the internet. Citizen journalism grew in tandem with the growth of the interactive functions on the internet. Although it encompasses many aspects and comes in different forms, including blogs, forums, uploading photographs or videos to the media, citizen journalism has one fundamental basis. In “Writing for a Convergent Media” Thom Lieb says it is “contributing journalistic content to the news process” and gives blogging as an example of one component of citizen journalism. According to Niemen Journalism, during the protests of the Nirbhaya gang rape incident, “activists and journalists used social media to follow the protests and to discuss India’s problem of violence against women” (Niemen lab). Journalists claim that the Nirbhaya gang rape incident highlighted how social media can serve as a space for storytelling. The Indian government, which is disgracefully slow when it comes to passing significant legislative action, expedited action because social media garnered international attention to India’s problem of violence against women” (Niemanlab) .


The incident not only shocked the nation but the collective outcry followed by series of protests by the citizens in Delhi and across the world laced with online petitions gained momentum and acted as a strong force. The result was that the Delhi Police and the Indian government came under tremendous pressure to act quickly and arrest the culprits who were involved in the young woman’s rape and murder. They were arrested and sentenced to death. The India government decided to review it polices on rape and other crimes against women and brought in new stringent laws in the country to ensure safety and protection to women. Finally, on February 3 2013, President Pranab Murherjee passed the Criminal Law Ordinance, which provides for death penalty in case of rape in India.


In Nirbhaya’s case, the public sentiment was heard; action was finally taken. It facilitated Indians to come together and mobilize for change. The incident provided citizens with a means for collective activism through social media like the Arab Spring in the Middle East. Citizens of India paid tribute to Nirbhaya like never before, a woman who will forever be remembered to have triggered a nation of over a billion citizens for a change for the safety and security of women. Today there is a lot of awareness in Delhi, authorities are more active and alert and forthcoming in tackling and providing security to young girls and women. Things are slowly changing today; the auto-rickshaws carry the women helpline number which is open round the clock.

New Horizon

The Nirbhaya case in Delhi not only changed the people of India, its government, but its journalists too. The ideals of journalism never change, but the people, the government, and even the journalists change with the times. The technology has brought in a new change. The journalists must understand this and embrace it to make our democracy more efficient and effective for India to progress in the 21st century as a strong democratic nation.

Limitations of Citizen Journalism

Today the potential benefits of citizen journalism as a source for quick news updates are widely acknowledged by all media professionals and institutes. However, the disadvantages and risks outweigh the benefits by far. Firstly, with no ethics or media laws in place for Citizen Journalists, unlike journalists in the traditional media, and no regulatory authority, no editorial ethics, it is highly risky. Secondly, Citizen Journalists usually give a very personal angle and therefore many a time may provide one-sided and biased views of an event or incident. Thirdly, given the instantaneous nature of the internet and its fast potential for global reach the effects and the impact have the power and potential to pose political and social upheaval in the society.

Further Reading

  1. S. Allan and E. Thorson (eds.), Citizen Journalism: global perspectives, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009.
  2. Bruns, Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation, presented at the Creativity & Cognition Conference, Washington, D.C., 2007
  3. M. Deuze, A. Bruns, C. Neuberger, “Preparing for an Age of Participatory News”, Journalism Practice, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2007, pp. 322-338
  4. Dennis F Herrick (2012) Media Management in the age of Giants “Business dynamics Of Journalism, Sage
  5. Chris Hogg (2009). “Is there Credibility in Citizen Journalism?” Digital Journal, May 2009


  1. Citizen Journalism- http://www.stateofthenewsmedia.org
  2. http://ncrb.nic.in/index.htm
  3. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21569031-horrible-attack-could-prove-turning-point-indias-women-rape-and-murder-delhi
  4. http://www.timesofindia.com/delhigangrape
  5. https://www.facebook.com/JoinFightAgainstDelhiGangRape
  6. Lieb, T. (2009). All the news: writing and reporting for convergent media. Boston:
  7. http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports.aspx

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