The newly approved French law, which makes it illegal for non-accredited journalists to film or broadcast acts of violence, is a full-frontal assault on citizen journalism, writes Roy Greenslade. And rightly so.
Even if we presume that this assault on citizen journalism is nothing but an unintended consequence of a law whose professed intention is to clamp down on public order offences, introducing 'a distinction between professional journalists, allowed to disseminate images of violence, and ordinary citizens', is very troubling, as noted in this press release from Reporters Without Borders:
"In the field of human rights, it is citizen journalists and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the government. Reporters Without Borders thinks it would be shocking if this kind of activity, which constitutes a safeguard against abuses of authority, were to be criminalized in a democratic country."
At its best, citizen journalism is an important, some would say invaluable, correction and supplement to mainstream media coverage. It broadens the picture. We all know how easy it is for MSM to get stuck talking to the same heads all the time, how the constant deadline race means we rely too much on newswires and don't find the time to do enough independent reporting.
Besides, sometimes MSM simply don't get to the scene first, or they can't get there at all, which I'm sure was part of the rationale for the recent deal between Reuters and Flickr. What if the French riots were to be reignited, and we, in this day and age, would only be allowed to see footage filmed by accredited journalists. If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines. How bizarre, troubling, surreal....
Then of course, there is the issue of standards, as raised in this recent debate. How can we force citizen journalists to abide by certain standards in terms of ethics, liability etc ? Short answer, you can't. Not unless you're going to publish a piece by a citizen journalist and you're vetting the material he or she provides, at least one would hope any responsible publisher would, take it for granted even.