A Toolkit for the Citizen Journalist

In part II of the ‘Making Grassroots Advocacy Relevant to International Society,’ Ed Hsu turns to the new phenomenon of citizen journalism
C. Ed Hsu

Part I of the series offered advice on how to petition the U.S. White House by introducing a “well-pleaded complaint” (WPC) doctrine drawing from legal practice to illustrate how to present a convincing and persuasive petition to the international community. The WPC doctrine includes the elements necessary for establishing jurisdiction of the courts, as well as the bases and demands for relief.

To appreciate how the doctrine may be applied in action, we now expand it by employing an analysis framework (by the Issue, Rules, Analysis and Conclusion, known as “IRAC”) in the context of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.

Furthermore, in light of tightened media controls in China and an imbalanced of coverage in Taiwan, this article focuses on the “citizen journalists” approach to effectively communicate with the international community. Among other things, this includes presenting documentary films in international film festivals and publishing videos in media Web portals (such as I-reporters). It explores other approaches to getting activists’ voices heard through an effective use of new media with easy access. It shares the roads travelled and lessons learned from the author’s empirical experience using these methods.

Lastly, this article concludes with what Taiwanese and Hong Gong expats can do overseas by employing the aforementioned methods to raise international awareness and support for democracy in their home countries.


An IRAC Analysis

A useful conceptual framework for preparing an effective petition by applying the WPC doctrine is demonstrated in the IRAC method. First, a “well-pleaded complaint” could be expanded to include the legal issue in question, the relevant rule (laws) associated with the issue, the legal basis invoked by the alleged violations, followed by an analysis including a breakdown of the rule elements, and a proof of the elements with supporting facts. The result, as to what level and extent of supporting facts prove the rule elements, will be the basis of the conclusion.

For the purpose of illustration, let us apply the IRAC to the White House petition urging the Obama administration to oppose the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA).

To begin with, the issue of legal/law question is whether the CSSTA could induce coercive forces that jeopardize the security, or social and economic system of Taiwan, and as such violate the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The next step is analysis. Analysis is the application of facts to the rules. It should focus on proving alleged violations of the law by linking supporting facts to breakdown of law elements. The petitioners should seek to prove that the implementation of the CSSTA will put Taiwan’s security, or the social or economic system, at risk. Here, the original White House petition alleged that the Ma Ying-jeou administration forced through the passage of the agreement, and by so doing grossly violated both substantive justice (i.e., “benefit only China” and “…Taiwan [will be] invaded gradually”) and procedural due process (i.e., “without line-by-line review”) of the law. The corresponding facts and legal elements should be clearly labeled and analyzed. For example, how would passage of the CSSTA undermine the — hereby a breakdown of the major elements of legal language — security, social, and economic system of Taiwan? The petitioners should cite convincing and persuasive evidence drawn from either the literature, reliable reports, or news stories to establish the alleged violations, i.e., their association of foreseeable security, social and economic injuries that Taiwan may sustain to support the petition claim, and based on the foregoing analysis to arrive at the conclusion: that absent counterarguments, an opposition to the CSSTA is warranted.

As an example, the recent documentary One Voice – Occupying Taiwan Congress (島嶼之聲) (full movie available here) produced by photographer Chauming Tsai and myself illustrated a case of how the IRAC framework is applied in a documentary for advocacy. The movie raised an issue of police brutality — against the protesters and the news media — as a violation of Constitutionally protected rights to assembly, as well as freedom of speech, including freedom of the press. We then interviewed people from 10 communities on their reactions to the CSSTA as testimonial evidence establishing the alleged violation and concluded with a call for opposition to the CSSTA to protect Taiwan’s freedoms and democracy. The documentary was officially selected by film festivals for screening in both Taiwan and the U.S., affording an opportunity to communicate with local and international media on core values of the civil movement.


Documentary Films and I-Reporter for Advocacy

The Sunflower Movement has witnessed how new media has transformed the way that conventional advocacy techniques otherwise may not be able to achieve. For example, many short documentaries were made which called for support from the international community on the grounds of emotions (e.g., Peuple de Bonté, Pays de Beauté 好國好民” ) or reason (e.g., One Voice 島嶼之聲”). On the other hand, real-time streaming videos by citizen groups on YouTube, e.g., The Sunflower Revolt: Protests in Taiwan and recorded videos that contained personal accounts of the events, such as CNN I-Reporters provide yet another opportunity to get the message out from the grassroots level.

The “citizen journalists” approach, such as publishing videos to Web-based news media sites as i-reporters or producing documentary films, represents a promising advocacy solution for grassroots activists, and it opens additional doors for the means by which advocacy can be done. Thanks to recent advances in technology, the film and production equipment needed to make movies, which may not have been available to ordinary citizens several years ago, have become much less expensive to acquire. One can easily take advantage of the no-overhead, no-to-low-budget filming opportunities to generate awareness within the international community.

In addition, it presents an opportunity for instant video images, often with compelling visual presentations and narratives ready for use in news segment, attesting to the saying that “a picture is worth more than a thousand words.” Finally, one can literally archive the entire advocacy package on the Web, including press kits, FAQs, and promotional products such as trailer and still shots. This gives interested viewers 24/7 access, either home or abroad, online or offline, without spatial and temporal boundaries.

It is noted that the application of Web-based media is subject to time and financial resource restrictions. By default, YouTube users are subject to upload videos no more than 15 minutes in length. After at least one successful upload, one can file a request with the Website for additional space for free, and upload the content with more than one hour running time. Most I-Reporters, however, limit their productions to less than 10 minutes. In documentary, most film festivals categorize film 20-45 minutes in duration as shorts, while those that are 1 hour or more are considered full-featured films. Time usually means money, particularly so when it affects entry fees for screening selection by film fests. Although most commercial film fests will charge an entry fee, public-interest oriented film fests often waive the fee. A Canadian company (filmfreeway.com) promotes free submissions and hosts a selection of companies that have organizes no-entry-fee film fests worldwide.

The two documentary films discussed here, namely the Peuple de Bonté, Pays de Beauté and One Voice, were produced by Taiwanese living in France and the U.S., which provided international perspectives in such a way that may be easier to understand for international society. They also made them available free of charge via the Internet. By so doing, they are echoing many international friends who joined the protests by sending a strong and unequivocal message to the students and their cause. They are endorsing universal values such as liberty, democracy and a free press, which Taiwan and Hong Kong have both fought long and hard to earn.

Therefore, last but not the least, is a personal call to all Taiwanese and Hong Kong expats living overseas to do their part, to confront the challenge of getting more involved in helping their home countries. In addition to making documentary films and being I-reporters, Taiwan and Hong Kong expats can help by organizing rallies in their communities to raise awareness; sending letters to editors and discussing civic events with international media outlets. They can also talk to elected officials in their states or provinces about what protecting democracy in Asia means to the rest of the world. The support will create a strong voice to help people in their native countries get through these most trying times, as they fight the good fight to safeguard their democracy, a gift that is enjoyed, but far too often taken for granted, by a large number of people in the rest of the world.


Ed Hsu is a documentary producer and professor from Tainan, Taiwan. He directed the documentary One Voice–Occupying Taiwan Congress, an official selection at the New Taipei Film Festival and California International Film Fest at Glendale, CA. It is among the first documentary on the Sunflower movement selected by an international film fest. Hsu is an adjunct professor of management and policy based in California.

Future showings of the movie One Voice will be held at the Tainan Cultural Center on 3/14/2015 and 4/11/2015.

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