Camera phone footage challenge to news media agenda

The Iraqi authorities had hoped that by releasing their own edited version of Saddam Hussein's hanging that they could show the world that an orderly and 'dignified' execution had been carried out - in complete contrast to the way that Saddam's own regime brutally treated its victims.

Instead, sound and pictures shot by a camera phone smuggled in by either one of the guards or witnesses recorded Saddam being taunted just before he was killed. As a result, Saddam's death has become the most controversial media disclosure from Iraq since the pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners inside Abu Ghraib were released in 2004.

In a short space of time, the camera phone has become the most powerful news gathering tool available to 'citizen reporters'. Not only can most new mobile handsets record video but these images can be almost instantaneously distributed over the network to other users and uploaded to the Web. File sharing sites such as YouTube also now have many video postings form American soldiers serving in Iraq.

After the 7/7 London bombings in July 2005, news organisations for the first time widely used camera phone footage from victims caught up in the blasts particularly those on the London Underground trains. In the past couple of years, video sharing sites on the Internet combined with 24 hour news channels have had the effect of moving television news coverage towards lower (production value) quality, unedited on-the-spot content.

So-called citizen journalism will increasingly challenge the official version of events. This quite possibly will spill over into other situations in which the coverage is tightly controlled, e.g. fashion shows, and 'manufactured media events' such as award ceremonies and film launches. This has the potential to provide parallel coverage in much the same way that paparazzi photography has created a new magazine sector that co-exists alongside mainstream titles that use carefully managed photo shoots and interviews.

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