As previous posts on this website have shown a huge amount of the news coverage coming out of conflict and disaster zones such as Libya, Egypt, and more recently Japan, is user generated. That is to say that civilians and citizens are using their cameras to document what’s happening all over the world from being shot at by Gaddafi forces, to filming their houses crumbling around them.
The quality is not always great but the undisputed power it yields, is that it’s captured as the action is happening. This is something journalists cannot always achieve due to time, safety constraints, and deadlines.
Watching the footage of the earthquake in Japan and the violence in Libya got me thinking about how people around the world might actually be putting their lives at risk in order to, paradoxically, record moments of life. Recent eyewitness footage demonstrates this desire and need to record what’s happening as it’s happening. The first thing many people did when the earthquake struck was to grab their cameras and press record, while in Libya many people are risking their lives to film during open gunfire.
Videos coming out of these troubled areas are showing a fascinating yet potentially deadly trend. We have already seen the death of one ‘citizen journalist’ in Libya being called a ‘citizen journalist martyr’. People are going against what has been perceived for generations as a basic human instinct. The drive to survive. Many people these days seem to outright put their lives at risk in order to capture something on film. But why is this happening and should it be happening?
I talked to ITN’s former Chief Executive Stewart Purvis to see what he thought about this growing trend, and whether broadcasters are justified in using UGC footage in the first place.
You can see the interview here, or check out the main information below.
Stewart started by saying that he did think broadcasters are justified in using the footage, as these people are capturing world events. The issue however, is when there is a risk of broadcasters indirectly encouraging people to film these kinds of dangerous events. He explained that this ‘indirect encouragement’ could be a greater risk with UGC because these people have no official connection to the networks.
Another risk is that ‘citizen journalists’ don’t have any formal training in what to do while filming under these circumstances. Many people seem to believe that if they have a camera filming they will be immune from danger, when in actual fact it could make them more of a target.
According to Stewart the events in Libya and Japan are very distinct. This is because in Japan there was amateur footage of the quake, but it was nothing compared to the incredible film shot by state media like NHK. In Libya however, due to the lack of state media coverage of what’s going on, and Gaddafi’s government restrictions on western media, a vacuum has been created. This means that everyday citizens have taken covering events into their own hands, to make sure the world is aware of what the real situation not being portrayed on state television. The government there are able to control to a certain extent what foreign media gets to see, but not how people use their mobile phones and the telecoms systems to then distribute that material.
Libyan Citizen Journalist Killed – Mohammad Nabbous
By Kirsty Malcolm @kirstymalcolm