How the digital revolution is reshaping the news
Richard Ingham | May 20, 2004
PARIS — Cheap digital technology is revolutionising the way news is
gathered, disseminated and perceived – and in doing so, it is
stoking a controversy.
The recent pictures in the British tabloid Daily Mirror
Over the past weeks, the world has reeled to the pictures of US
troops abusing Iraqi prisoners and the beheading of US contract
worker Nicholas Berg.
These events were recorded by participants or bystanders. The
images were posted on the Internet, making them directly, freely
and immediately accessible around the world.
In other words, journalists played no part in recording or
interpreting the images.
No editor intervened on how the pictures should be handled, or
even published, on the grounds of taste.
Government censors and spin doctors were impotent.
It may seem new, but bypassing the traditional channels for
spreading the news has a time-honoured history.
During the 1989 pro-democracy movement in China, for example,
activists and supporters disseminated news by fax, completely
sidestepping state TV, radio and newspapers.
"What's changed, though, is the technology," said Steve Vines,
publisher of a Hong Kong weekly news and political satire magazine,
Spike (www.spikehk.com). "The technology is cheaper and
faster than ever before, and the Internet has a global outreach."
At a stroke, the main barriers to publishing – cost and
geography – have vanished and the result is explosive.
No one can agree whether the potent combination of digital
camera and Internet amounts to democratisation of news, an
opportunity for crude propaganda or a titillating exercise in
schlock and gore.
What is clear, Vines said in an interview with AFP, is that
unfiltered, uncensored images are now starting to drive the menu of
the mainstream news oulets.
"If shock pictures appear on the Internet, that gives the
mainstream media the justification for showing them as news. I am
damn sure that they wouldn't have done, if they (the pictures)
hadn't appeared on the Net first."
Antoine de Gaudemar, editorial director for the left-of-centre
French daily Liberation, said "the uncontrollable proliferation" of
images of executions, massacres and torture on the Internet placed
editors in an almost daily quandary.
For de Gaudemar, the pictures of the prisoner abuse could
justifiably be published, "because they reveal a hidden, almost
pornographic, truth about the occupation of Iraq."
On the other hand, the beheading was "abject propaganda," said
de Gaudemar. "To show it would have been to take part in a morbid
auction" of values.
In addition to the events in Iraq, editors have been confronted
by whether to run pictures of body parts of Israeli troops, killed
by a bomb in Gaza last week, whose remains were paraded by
The march of technology is bound to make such problems even more
Web-logging, in which Internet users post their observations,
experiences and thoughts on websites, first became a news source
for conventional media after the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The "blog" by an unidentified 29-year-old man, who goes by the
name of Salam Pax, was seized upon for its vivid description of
daily life as the war unfolded. The diary is being turned into a
The next step is "Vblogging," for video blogs, with images
derived from digital cameras, webcames, mobile phones and palmtop
computers, which are becoming evermore versatile and cheap.
"Those with a desire and a little technology [will have] the
chance to write, shoot, edit and distribute video journalism on
their own, even from the field," forbes.com, the website of Forbes
So the challenge to traditional journalism as the determinant of
what is news and how news should be filtered will only intensify.
And the debate about whether undigested news is objective,
useful and moral is bound to sharpen. –Sapa-AFP
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