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About Citizen Justice Network

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We are based in advice offices and community radio stations across the country. On average, every day a paralegal journalist with the help of CJN produces a piece of social justice content to be broadcast on a partner radio station. We are part of Wits Journalism in Braamfontein. 

The Citizen Justice Network (CJN) is an award-winning media innovation. We build journalism capacity for paralegals to develop stories on social justice issues in under-reported areas. We provide technology, editorial guidance and connect them with local community radio stations so they can broadcast their stories in African languages. We then bridge this rural journalism with the mainstream media and bring these untold stories to a wider public through podcasts, national radio stations and websites. This journalism feeds directly into identifying issues where the public needs legal assistance and contact with government and arranging these stakeholder engagements.

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Our community paralegals are established, trusted activists and fighters for social change in their communities. We empower them with journalism skills necessary to help their communities and assist with access to justice. CJN is about helping rural community members produce their own radio stories. We carefully guide the paralegals so they can broadcast their radio stories on their local community radio stations.

The stories explore issues like domestic abuse, corruption, police violence and the abuse of inmates. Each story is based around a person who has come to a community advice office seeking help. We embed and promote the stories through on-line channels and find ways to republish the stories in print and on radio so the story has the widest possible reach. Primarily we want to create a network between community radio stations and their nearby advice offices. Also, we want to provide a bridge between community media and mainstream digital outlets. Ultimately we want the stations and their listeners within this network to have access to these stories, but also those in urban centres like Johannesburg and Cape Town. The stories are often produced in local, African languages and without CJN these stories would otherwise be left unreported.

CJN is bringing together the established networks of paralegals and community radio stations to improve journalism and people’s access to justice. Turning cases into stories that can educate huge numbers of people is the strength of CJN. The final step: by monitoring the production of these stories CJN is able to identify national patterns of injustice. These patterns are used to assist our ongoing advocacy to improve the criminal justice system. Our aim of holding government accountable is to be collaborative. We see our goals as raising awareness, exposing dishonesty and providing a solution to government. This could take the form of an efficient information workshop: a day where government representatives provide community members with free legal advice around a particular concern that arose from several of our stories nationwide. We are a nationwide newsroom for social justice issues that develops local reporting and finds solutions on a global scale. The Citizen Justice Network was a gold winner at The Global Innovation Competition 2015.

How we develop rural communities

We develop rural communities by improving their knowledge and level of engagement around social justice issues. These issues include citizenship, domestic violence, social grants, human trafficking, restorative justice and service delivery. CJN achieves this by training community paralegals in rural areas across the country to be journalists and produce quality radio stories and broadcast them on their local radio stations. We provide them with tablets and microphones and guide them through every stage of the process. We also distribute these community-based stories to mainstream and online media so the issues can have the furthest possible reach. Our paralegal-journalists turn their important work in helping their communities with social justice problems into journalism radio stories. With the training and guidance from CJN our paralegals turn their legal advice work into journalism. The advice offices enjoy the promotion they receive on the radio and the radio stations acquire quality content. We bring stakeholders in our areas together: the radio station, the advice office, the police and the courts so beneficial dialogues can be started.

As a direct result of our journalism work we uncover and identify national patterns of injustice and develop on-the-ground workshops to address these problems. These workshops arise from the themes of the radio stories produced by CJN. In execution they give people true actionable legal advice and access to government officials. And after the workshop the people who attend are brought into our journalism work to produce more, in-depth stories around these issues. This way our training, radio production and workshops are integrated perfectly.

Our key activities:

TRAINING

We train paralegals to be radio journalists. We provide them with tablets and microphones and teach them the importance of story, interviewing, journalism ethics and how to edit for radio. The training is designed to allow community paralegals to realize that a great deal of the reporting work for a powerful story is already being done through their efforts as a paralegal.We see CJN as an ongoing training project that empowers people to use technology and communication in their daily lives. In addition we empower community radio stations to engage with the legal issues in their communities (through training workshops). This is a valuable cross-pollination of knowledge of the advice offices and the radio stations that strengthens access to justice throughout the community. These training workshops are incredibly powerful forums for knowledge sharing.

REPORTING, PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION

We produce otherwise untold stories on issues around justice in local languages. These can involve statelessness, human trafficking, maintenance and illegal deductions from social grants. We have a schedule currently where each office and radio station produces a piece of justice content for CJN each week. This means a piece of content, on average, is produced every week day. Local radio stations are incredibly popular, but local reporting is scarce. Most community radio stations do not have reporters or journalists. Members of radio stations often copy and translate news from national news sites for their bulletins. CJN is introducing the power of original radio documentary and narrative storytelling to community radio in South Africa.

We distribute these stories to:

a) local community radio stations,
b) through embedded audio on-line and
c) in print form on urban-based websites like The Daily Vox and journalism.co.za.

CJN writes a selection of our radio stories up  to be made available for various markets with links to the original audio. This extends the reach of the reporting and research made by the community paralegals. The CJN website is aiming its content at conscientious community members across Africa. Our aim is to write stories and highlight causes that would be of interest for people who want to see active positive change happen in their area.

The CJN website is aiming to become an authoritative news source for people to discover justice stories from our territories. We also expect readers from across South Africa to see similarities between the communities we operate in and where they live. CJN is making these stories of injustice available on-line for the larger population of South Africa and for broadcast on all stations which are part of CJN across the country. Our work has incredible potential for deeper nationwide investigations. For example: Musina has highlighted the issue of gangs on the border who kidnap and rape women who are trying to enter South Africa illegally. We see CJN’s role as reporting stories and providing advice. However, we also see the potential of running follow ups and digging deeper into certain issues to the point where the perpetrators could be identified. Our paralegal journalists have a constant “beat” in remote areas. No media outlet in the country has access to rural radio journalists with this level of knowledge of their subject matter.

 WORKSHOPS

We identify patterns of injustice across the country and by using our network this leads to:

a) targeted and efficient information workshops. This could, for example, be a day where government representatives provide community members with free legal advice around a particular concern. These concerns would be within the themes set out by the stories generated by our paralegal journalists. Our strategy of holding government accountable is to be collaborative. We see our goals as raising awareness, exposing dishonesty and providing a solution to government to streamline their bureaucratic processes in order to increase access to justice. Currently, our Musina office (on the border with Zimbabwe) is looking at the issue of statelessness and we hope to put pressure on the local Home Affairs office to hold a regular workshop to help families who are facing this issue.

b) increased stakeholder engagement. We monitor how our paralegals and radio stations engage with other stakeholders in the community, for example: the police or the traditional leaders. In our Mpumalanga office there has been a number of long standing relationships with the local traditional leaders. Our head paralegal has recognized that for more domestic violence cases to be exposed the traditional leaders need to be involved so the cases can go through the proper legal channels. CJN is helping to give this relationship a platform to blossom.