The impact of Video Journalism in the Arab uprisings: part 1 of a 2 part report

By Hugo Williams


On the 17th December 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a Tunisian police station, the world changed forever. Bouazizi’s death, which was seen in Tunisia as a symbol of the desperation which they so many felt under the autocratic regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , lit the touch paper for a revolution which spread far beyond one country’s borders.

Since then, Egypt has overthrown its own longstanding tyrant in its struggle for democracy, and there has been continuous (and ongoing) unrest all across the Arab world: Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, and of course Lybia, where Britain, France and the US are currently enforcing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan citizens from Colonel Gadaffi’s attempt to quash the revolution.

The revolutionary contagion spreading across the Middle East has been blamed (or credited, depending which angle you’re coming from) on many things: repressive regimes which deny their people freedom; a huge population of young people who feel frustrated and let down by their leaders,; and finally, the rise of social media, which has allowed people to share information and organise themselves online, in a way that would simply not have been possible even two years ago.

But referring simply to “social media” as being the catalyst for these uprisings is too broad. It’s not just the messages that people have been able to send each other, arranging where to meet, or gathering so many people online that they are able to develop a critical mass, so that they can be sure of safety in numbers before even heading out onto the streets.

One of the things that galvanised people most into acting was the fact that VIDEOS of different protests were available online so quickly after the event. People could see with their own eyes what was happening. This was especially true when it came to government’s attempts to crack down on protests.  For example, the footage of an Egyptian police van deliberately accelerating as it entered a crowd of protesters, running over several people, demonstrated in one 10 second clip the brutality that the Mubarak regime was prepared to use to suppress its own people.

The use of online video to document abuses by different governments during the Arab uprisings has been instrumental in forming opinion not only among people in those countries, but also in the international community. Which in Libya’s case has made all the difference.

So surely this can only be a good thing, spreading information and calling governments to account? What harm could it possibly do? Read on for the counterargument in part 2..

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