Camera Phones: Democratizing the Global Media LandscapeJuly 8th, 2008 — awaheed
NPR recently reported that Morocco’s state-run TV stations have taken a big hit as an increasing number of Moroccan youths prefer to get their news, especially on controversial issues, through online video-sharing networks such as YouTube and Daily Motion. A major reason for this increasing interest in video-sharing networks is the growing use of camera phones, which – as they become increasingly accessible – have become powerful allies with the Internet in revolutionizing the global media landscape. For example, following clashes between protestors and security forces in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni, and the subsequent trial of Hassan Rachidi, the majority of young Moroccans relied on YouTube for coverage of the event.
Moroccans are not alone in their growing dependence on this form of amateur picture-video reporting. During recent protests in Korea against US beef imports, tens of thousands of Koreans used their cell phones to document the demonstrations; In Tibet, footage of violent protests in the capital were recorded using camera phones and were soon uploaded onto the Internet by the Indian branch of Students for a Free Tibet; And in Baghdad, Robert Fisk writes that mobile phones are playing a pivotal role in capturing “the dangerous face of ordinary life” by “reaching the places Western photographers can no longer go.”
Their small, convenient size and affordability have undoubtedly made camera phones increasingly accessible to a wide-range of people, allowing them to take strikingly honest photographs and videos with less risk of notice or reprimand than say, a journalist working in a conflict zone. Yet, despite these advantages, such reporting has its risks, as was demonstrated earlier this year when a Chinese man was killed for filming a violent clash between villagers and officials in rural China.
Whether it is a video of protests in Korea or Tibet, or a snapshot of life in Iraq, camera phones have the ability to transform their owners into photojournalists, redefining the concept of “independent media.” Ethan Zuckerman notes that by allowing virtually anyone to record and broadcast an event, mobile phones equipped with cameras have become a powerful force for “sousveillance.”
A possible shortcoming of this form of reporting could be a decline in the quality of news coverage due to information overload, or the “babel effect.” There are also concerns about credibility of citizen journalists. However, in the case of Morocco and other countries where the media are controlled by the state, or shy away from politically controversial stories, the use of camera phones have raised awareness about issues that would otherwise not be available in the public sphere.
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