The impact of Video Journalism in the Arab uprisings: part 2: snuff movies

By Hugo Williams

In the previous post on video journalism from the Arab uprisings, I concentrated on the positive impact that online video has had in providing evidence, both to protesters and the wider world, about abuses that were carried out by different governments during demonstrations.

If information is always KING, then there would be no case to answer for putting every single last video into the public domain. But Wikileaks has demonstrated that things are not always so simple; some information can cause harm (e.g. the documents released by Wikileaks which named people in Afghanistan who had helped the U.S. army, thus posing a credible threat to their lives). But many argue that as long as the benefit of releasing the information outweighs the harm it does, then there’s no problem.

One thing that has struck me as I’ve followed the Arab revolution online, is the visceral nature of much so much of the content that goes up. Watching official news channels like the BBC and Sky feels like a PG-rated experience compared to what you are exposed to online. There is no watershed on the internet, and that is reflected in much of the videos that I have watched since the uprisings began.

The clip I showed in the first part of this blog report was of a police van deliberately driving through a crowd of protesters in Cairo, running over several of them as it went. At first an online video, it was quickly picked up by news organisations and played in their main reports of the day’s events. At the time I felt like the footage was very shocking, and perhaps inappropriate even. But it was nothing compared to the videos I then started watching.

I have deliberately not embedded these links so that anyone reading this blog will not be involuntarily exposed to the shocking footage: But if you do click through, ask yourself why? Is it because you feel it’s important to understand the opression and violence that people in the Arab world have had to face in their bid for a free society? Or is it because you’re the same as every human being, with that innate fascination with death, that desire to rubberneck when you go past the scene of a serious car accident, just to see what it’s like? Or are you like me, so desensitised to the whole thing, that you don’t really think twice about clicking through? It’s just more information, right?

Two dead pro-Gadaffi mercenaries, according to rebels in Benghazi,  Libya lying side by side on the ground    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV0ebDPQrYk

An unarmed protester in Bahrain, shouting “God is great” in Arabic. He is then shot by a sniper.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZle1_Xjn_k&skipcontrinter=1

A young protestor in Latikia, Syria, face and neck covered in blood. Unclear if he’s alive or dead.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3RiFkdSZ5A

 

One final thought: if you were a 12 year-old child and googled Latikia, the first video result that comes up on the google search page, without any filters, is the final one on my list.

I realise the importance of posting videos to show the violence that people in the Middle East, but surely Google and YouTube should think up some method by which they can filter out videos and images of dead people from basic searches. This kind of content should only become accessible if you are really looking for it, not easily embeddable on a public forum like twitter.

If and when all this does come to an end, Google and YouTube may want to do a bit of spring cleaning. Otherwise the internet is in danger of becoming one massive snuff video vault.

 


At The Scene: Online Video’s Crucial Role in Breaking News

So, there you are in the office writing up your script for the BBC’s News at Ten and at 9.40pm the juiciest news story breaks out all around you! How do you capitalise on this massively visual piece NOW whilst it’s still hot?  What do you do? What can you do? The answer is Nothing. You are forced to sit, wait for 10pm and watch as the pie quickly cools…

GUTTED without Online Video

“What about the BBC News Channel and Sky News? They provide 24 hour rolling news!” Correct, you are right there. But only for people who can afford satellite television, which currently only stands at one THIRD of UK homes. The other 66%, the majority, are left to wait.

Your smug fellow colleagues at BBC who work in the department of BBC News Online, on the other hand, can dig in straight away. They can even burn their tongues by capitalising on news so fast.

It’s not just them stuffing their chops – Sky News Online, CNN, and Twitter constantly dine at the online video buffet for breaking news stories. And when they do, they can be assured it’s always fresh.

When the story of the 7/7 bombings in London broke in July 2005, the BBC went straight online to youTube and Flickr for videos and photos of what had happened. The user generated comments they found there also gave them ideas about the potential casualties they needed to report.
Jo Twist, BBC’s Technology Reporter says:

“Unlike TV cameras, mobile phones only need a functioning network to send back moving images. This can be done at the touch of a couple of buttons.

TV crews often need feed links and complex set-ups to file back their high-quality images.

The grainy quality of the moving mobile images will improve over time, but news organisations say viewers forgive the quality as they understand the circumstances in which such footage is often shot.”

The above video was taken by David Couzins, an un-injured train passenger underground the day of the 7/7 bombings. He says:

“Although not particularly interesting, I did manage to email this video directly to some of the world’s major newsrooms as soon as I got to the surface (something that was reasonably advanced in 2005) and as a result both the BBC and Sky News played this video numerous times throughout the day as the story unfolded. I will never forget that day.”

Amateur videos are becoming extremely popular as time goes on, as the average person becomes more and more adept to shooting their own footage comfortably and sharing it immediately. Their proxomity to the scene of the story cannot be beaten by news organisations, bacause it is from those involved that the organizations are alerted in the first place. Take the disaster in Haiti for instance:

In reporting the earthquake disaster in Haiti in Jan 2010, the BBC posted amateur footage from youtube without properly discovering its source or checking its reliability. But even if you do check the sources, and they all add up, time will not wait for you.

And even if you do provide up-to-the-minute news during broadcast, nothing can be done once transmission has ceased: if a burning story breaks at 10.36pm, there’s no opportunity to broadcast it for another 6 hours on BBC One until 4.35am the following day.

With online news, you can be sure to get that breaking story out and spread it to the world fast. You don’t have to send a reporter to the place of the incident. You don’t have to voxpop for mixed reviews/opinions. You don’t have to reconstruct any action that takes place. You just have to venture online.

Because Online Video will always be first at the scene.

by NICK KWEK