Advocacy Through Multimedia

14 Jun, 2013

By Adam Stofsky, New Media Advocacy Project (N-MAP)

Last November, I was jet-lagged and nearly frozen, directing a scene out on Marjanishvili Street in Tbilisi, trying to produce a human rights video in 48 hours.  I was pretty miserable, it must be said, as my under-dressed colleagues were sitting inside McDonalds, supposedly working on “strategy.” 

So, yes, I was pretty miserable.  But I was surrounded by an incredibly dynamic group of advocates – disability rights activists, all in wheelchairs, and their dedicated friends and supporters. 

At the New Media Advocacy Project (N-MAP), we work on dozens of projects all around the world, and I would never be confident about pulling off such a challenging project in just two days. But with this group, and many of their Georgian colleagues, we always find a way to make it happen.

Throughout 2012, N-MAP helped human rights organizations in the Caucasus integrate high-quality video and other media into their advocacy work.  We’re not making videos about human rights violations – instead, we are developing ways to make new technology an integral part of human rights advocacy work.  

In my years as a human rights lawyer and US litigator, I’ve been frustrated with the way courts, legislative offices, international organizations and other institutions charged with protecting human rights too often exclude and shut out the very people that they are trying to help. Our work uses our skills as lawyers and media professionals to get our clients’ voices heard in the halls of power.

In 2012, we worked on two key issues: disability rights, and election fairness and access to information. Not only are both of these issues of paramount importance in Georgia’ political life, but they also very much lend themselves to media advocacy, and for very different reasons. 

In the disability rights context, media can make a tremendous difference, because it can help to tell powerful stories of people who, for decades, have been forced into the margins of society.  By telling their stories in high-quality media, we can show the rest of Georgian society that they are fully realized human beings, with hopes and dreams, just like everyone else.  We can help to make familiar something that is often unknown, and even scary.

 In the election fairness context, we can help to take seemingly arcane rules (for example, “Must Offer-Must Carry” rules for Georgian television) and make them relevant in people’s lives.

This year we produced several very different video campaigns with “Accessible Environment for Everyone”  (ERTAD): a four-minute documentary to introduce Georgian citizens and government officials to the problem of accessibility in Tbilisi; a social advertisement shown on Georgian television about the lack of accessibility in public transport; and a short video (the shooting of which is described above) featuring images of people with many kinds of disabilities, to attract thousands of people to a campaign event in January.  We also produced a short video for the It Affects You Too! campaign, led by OSGF, to push for greater access to information during 2012’s Parliamentary elections

One of the most thrilling aspects of this project is working with OSGF itself.   This is a unique relationship for us. Having a foundation so deeply involved in helping us identify important projects allows us to ensure that we will maximize our impact, and that our projects are focused in the right direction.  The relationship has helped us to understand Georgian politics and civil society culture much more quickly and effectively than we could have without such a close partner.

The project greatly exceeded our expectations.  We’ve been delighted at the level of media sophistication among our Georgian partners, and their enthusiasm for using new media and experimenting with innovative ideas to tackle their challenging human rights issues.  I expected to encounter much more fear of change – something we often see when starting to work with new organizations.  Instead, we’ve found a great deal of enthusiasm.

Out biggest challenge so far has been managing the fact that we are a US-based organization, and that travel to Georgia can be quite burdensome. There is a huge amount of work do to, and it can be challenging to manage projects remotely. To solve this problem for 2013, we are focused on hiring Georgia-based staff, and building strategic partnerships with local technology and human rights organizations (for example, the OSGF grantee, Jumpstart Georgia).

As we move into 2013 and beyond, our goal is to take on far more ambitious projects that involve multiple kinds of technology beyond video, such as mapping, interactive media, and animation, used in multiple venues.  Given Georgia’s fascinating political landscape, and its strong local interest and capacity, we hope that these collaborations will become a laboratory for innovation in media advocacy work worldwide.