Two stories that pioneered the power of online video

A number of internationally prominent news stories in recent times have had, at their heart, a piece of video footage that has been posted online.

Gone are the days when camera equipment was exclusively for cameramen in crews and well-funded freelancers. Technological advances in, and the increasing availability and cheapness of, video recording equipment has allowed citizen journalists to compete with the pros. Especially as, online, we all compete on equal ground. Two stories in which citizen journalists have published video online have been a matter of being in the right place at the right time, yet proved pivotal in establishing online video as a journalistic tool.

Story 1: Neda Agha-Soltan

Known simply as Neda around the world due to immense interest in her story, Neda Agha-Soltan was approaching the mass protest against the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential election when she was shot in the chest. Her collapse and death were captured on film and posted online.

The video swept YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites, magnifying international scrutiny of Tehran. Neda became a symbol of the uprising and the protest was exacerbated, prompting a series of direct reactions from the Iranian regime. These included;

  • Iran’s ambassador to Mexico suggested that the CIA could have been involved in Neda’s death, questioning the circumstances of the video recording.
  • The appointed speaker to Ian’s Supreme Leader claimed the video was propaganda against the system created by protestors.
  • Iran’s police chief announced an arrest warrant for an eyewitness of Neda’s death, for “poisoning the international atmosphere against the Iranian government and telling misinformation about Neda’s death by giving his account of the incident to foreign news media.”
  • The head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting claimed that the video was made by the BBC and CNN.

In December 2009, Neda’s family accused the security forces of killing her. “I openly declare that no one, apart from the government, killed Neda. Her killer can only be from the government,” her father told the BBC’s Persian service by telephone from Iran.

Later, the BBC screened a This World Special, Neda: An Iranian Martyr. In it, Neda’s mother says in an interview;  “She always wanted to travel the world. Now she has”.

Story 2: Ian Tomlinson

Ian Tomlinson died at the G20 protests in London on 1st April 2009, after being struck by a police officer and falling to the ground minutes before suffering a fatal heart attack. He was a newspaper vendor who was on his way home from work.

The Guardian obtained footage from a citizen journalist, who had captured the moment Tomlinson had been struck, and chose to share the video with a short article on its web site, before the story appeared in print. As soon as the video appeared other newspapers’ sites were linking to it and capturing the footage or still images to use themselves. Subsequently broadcasters including the BBC, Sky and Channel 4 featured it extensively on their news bulletins. At the same time, social media was fueling the story, with Guardian journalists using Twitter to share the video URL. Within hours, “Ian Tomlinson” was trending on Twitter as one of the 10 most written about topics.

The coverage and surrounding debate led to three postmortem examinations, the second and third agreeing that cause of death was internal bleeding, and a criminal inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In November 2009 the Chief Inspector of Constabulary published a 150-page report aimed to restore Britain’s traditional consent-based model of policing.

Laura Heighton-Ginns

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One Comment on “Two stories that pioneered the power of online video”

  1. adamgarcia says:

    There is no doubt that youtube which has pioneered the use of video has been instrumental in putting a lie to official versions of teh truth which everr country that may be – iran or britain, if a state murderers someone they should be held to account.


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