The rapid evolution of digital technology has changed how we interact with the world around us. New technology has made it possible for even common people to share newsworthy information, which was previously the exclusive role of journalists and police. Bystanders witnessing a crime can easily record crucial information if only they have access to a smart phone with a video camera. Is this the modern way of ensuring a safer society?
Media is an important tool for society as individuals use it to construct the world around them. Without the media we are less aware of new threats to society and we are dependent on media to provide this kind of information to us. But what do we do when the media provides false information?
Distrust of the media has increased, and a recent survey stated that 60% of countries distrust the media. The US, for example, shows an all time low in the amount of trust towards the media – between 1999 and 2014, the percentage of Americans that think the media is able to report “the news fully, accurately, and fairly” fell from 55% to only 40% of the population.
There have been several revelations recently where the media has provided false information, which was discovered by the release of personal videos taken by bystanders. A prominent example was the shooting of Walter Scott in the US. He is one of many black unarmed Americans who have been killed by the police under criminal circumstances. The South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, shot Scott in the back eight times, with five of the bullets hitting him. The released video shows a taser being dropped on the ground by Slager, as Scott is running away from him. Slager then begins to shoot the unarmed Scott in the back, killing him. Later on Slager moves the taser closer to Scott’s body, with the intent to make it appear as though Scott had a weapon. All of this is only known by the public because a bystander filmed the events with his mobile phone and sent it to the media.
Before the release of the video, the media reports concerning Scott’s death were almost exclusively false. A local newspaper falsely reported that Scott and Slager were fighting each other over the officer’s taser, and that this was the cause of the fatal shooting. “Here’s a news report we’d be reading if Walter Scott’s killing wasn’t on video” is an article released by the Huffington Post, showing an alternative article that would have been published if the video had not been released. This article portrays police officer, Michael Slager, as a dutiful officer, and the victim Walter Scott, as just another criminal. The implication of citizen journalism has meant that Walter Scott was able to receive justice and Michael Slager was charged with murder. The videos of police shootings of black unarmed people have now resulted in that a massive debate about racism in the US has emerged.
Videos are also being used in other parts of the world to show injustices and criminal acts hidden from the rest of the world. Oren Yakobovich is part of the human rights organization Videre est Credere, meaning “to see is to believe”. They use hidden micro cameras to show injustice and force police investigations to begin.
A woman in an African village, where the ruling party governed by force and threats, was given a hidden camera by the organization to film one of the party’s intimidation meetings right before an election. The video shows a man from the ruling political party declaring threats like “Nothing can stop us from doing what we want”, “ If we hear you are with the opposition we will not forgive you” and “The party can torture you at any time”. Nobody is allowed to film at the meetings and the woman was risking her life. But by exposing the party with this video, the organization was forced not to use violence. Inadvertently saving hundreds of lives, and forcing the army and police to start investigations.
Modern media will continue to evolve and following this from a citizen journalism perspective will be interesting, especially with the increasing usage of amateur videos as media sources. Will citizen journalism help to win back the trust of people in media, and make the news a more reliable information source for society? Together with social media and regular media, the videos taken by bystanders and organizations can help create a more enlightened, just and fair society. If a picture is worth more than a thousand words, then how much is a video worth?