By Darius King Kabafunzaki (Published 11th November 2016)
The Media for Social Change (M4SC) programme of the Refugee Law Project was recently mandated by the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court of Uganda to document the proceedings of the pre-trial conference for Thomas Kwoyelo, a former Lord’s Resistance Army commander, that took place on 15th – 16th August 2016 at Gulu High Court. This followed a recommendation by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), one of our major funders, having noted our growing reputation and record of using media for advocacy and awareness creation.
To comprehensively document the proceedings, the team used photography; audio-video recording and regular posts on our social media platforms ie facebook, twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to keep our online audience updated.
Besides the above, we also provided two overflow facilities fitted with TV screens and public address systems to relay the proceedings to the overwhelming number of enthusiastic individuals who wanted to follow the court proceedings but could not fit in the main courtroom, and yet they were yearning to witness the pre-trial of a notorious rebel commander who is alleged to have terrorized their communities killing their families, relatives and friends. We did this successfully and people were very pleased with our innovative abilities that enabled them to follow the proceedings.
When the presiding judge adjourned the pre-trial conference the team returned to Kampala and evaluated our performance. Recognizing that by only catering for the local population who could access the court premises we had only ‘killed one bird’, we decided that inorder to reach wider audiences nationally and internationally and keep them up-to-date with the proceedings we should use “live streaming” for future stages in the process and as such ‘kill two birds’ (the national and the international audiences) with our one stone; media. Live streaming means transmitting or receiving live audio and video coverage of an event over the internet. We had just a month to get ourselves organized, not least procuring and installing additional equipment!
In preparation for the real thing, we carried out multiple drills on how to set up the newly acquired internet live streaming equipment; from watching tutorials to fixing HDMI, thunderbolt, composite cables in this and that port; installing the drivers for the ATEM Television studio mixer on our computers; testing the Black Magic Ultra Studio Mini Recorders and Intensity Shuttle; and having a go at using Wirecast, a live streaming software. We failed on several attempts and almost gave up, but we kept trying again and again.
After long, intense and sweaty hours of attempts, we finally got the first successful live stream test on a colleague’s YouTube channel. I felt very excited after this first test and I can bet that my colleagues felt the same way too.
On the 18th September we set off for Gulu very enthusiastic and looking forward to using our newly learned technique of internet live streaming for the first time. By now our team was well equipped with all necessary equipment including the public address system, video cameras with accessories, still picture cameras, computers, cables and - most importantly - the newly purchased internet live streaming equipment.
On arrival in Gulu, we had one final drill just to be sure everything was in order. Because constant power supply is uncertain in Gulu town, the team also had to test the generator power supply, which would ensure constant power supply to the equipment throughout the pre-trial conference. All the equipment and cables were installed and laid the day before the slated start of the court proceedings, and then we allocated roles: camera, video mixer, photography, and social media
On the first day for the court session, 21 September, we were the first to arrive at the heavily guarded Gulu High Court. Final checks were done on all the equipment in the main courtroom and the overflow facilities. As time went on, people started arriving at the High Court, quickly filling up all the three spaces provided and anxiously waiting for the hearing to begin. Notifications were sent on our social media platforms with a link to the YouTube live stream from which those unable to be in Gulu could follow the proceedings once the court was in session.
After waiting for a couple of hours, the audience’s attention was drawn to front of the court room when a door opened and Thomas Kwoyelo was led in guarded by two prisons service officers. At that moment, the record buttons on the video cameras were pressed; the internet live streaming started, and the pictures and sound from the court room were instantly relayed to the overflow facilities as well as on our YouTube channel for all to follow. Shortly afterward, the “all rise” was called and in walked the presiding judge, ready to do her job.
Worthy to note is the fact that the defense team was impressed and happy with the streaming because they felt that it was enabling the general public follow the proceedings transparently. We were also pleased to receive positive feedback from people who were watching the live stream from Uganda and all over the world.
“The fact that I’m not present in the courtroom doesn’t mean I’m missing out on the proceedings. Thanks to Refugee Law Project for the livestream.” Loum Bernard commented
At the end of the third day, despite the team standing for very many tiring hours to man the cameras and all the equipment, you could still see a smile and a feeling of satisfaction on each of their faces saying, “we did it”. There was no doubt at all that it was a success.
With the great individual innovative skills coupled with team work we had successfully catered for both the audience physically at the Gulu High Court as well as those who were only able to follow the proceedings from wherever they were in Uganda or the world over by providing TV screens in the overflow facilities, regular posts on our social media platforms, and internet live streaming, we had strategically used media to reach our target audience. Killing another bird with the same stone; media!
Darius King Kabafunzaki works at Refugee Law Project as a Video Advocacy Assistant under the Media for Social Change Programme