Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Journalism in the Information Age, Or Nothing Says 'No' Like a Brightly Burning Motorcycle

Iran's Supreme Leader and his enforcers are doing their best to keep order in Iran. They're (apparently) killing protesters and (allegedly) rounding up reporters. According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran is now a world leader, when it comes to imprisoned or missing journalists.
"...Iran now has a total of 33 journalists and cyber-dissidents in its jails, while journalists who could not be located at their homes have been summoned by telephone by Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi...." (Reporters Without Borders)
Three more reporters were arrested yesterday.
"...The latest arrests bring the number of journalists picked up and imprisoned since the disputed presidential election to 26.

" 'After demonising the foreign media, the authorities are trying to have it believed that Iranian journalists are spies in the pay of foreigners, confusing news reporting with spying', it added...." (Reporters Without Borders)
If you compared the two quotes, you're right: 33 plus three does not equal 26. Either the earlier figure was a typo, or "journalists and cyber-dissidents" aren't the same as "journalists." Or, Reporters Without Borders are making the numbers up and not keeping track of what they said before.

I'm going with the 'typo' or 'apples and oranges' scenarios for the moment. It's not that I trust Reporters Without Borders without reservation: but I don't think they're stupid, either.

For starters, they're aware of what's been going on since the dawn of the Information Age.

Today, If You've Got a Cell Phone, You're a Reporter - a Video Cell Phone, and You're a News Team

In the 'good old days,' maybe a dozen people would have seen Neda Agha Soltan die. Today, anyone with an internet connection and a decent browser can find the cell phone video of her death. (June 23, 2009)

When a regime locks up many professional journalists, and places tight restrictions on what the rest are allowed to do, people around the world are limited to the regime's official version of what's going on. And, whatever people post to the Internet.
YouTube Videos: Not Approved and Cleared by the Islamic Republic of Iran
"Police invasion on people tehran vanak Sq 13 June 2009"

PersianKoli, YouTube (June 13, 2009)
video, 1:01

"Riot police caught by crowd - Protests in Tehran after election"

Mousavi1388, YouTube (June 14, 2009)
video, 3:30

"Tehran Helicopter flies over protesters june 22 2009"

feridata1, YouTube (June 22, 2009)
video, 0:41

One thing I noticed in quite a number of videos identified as coming from Iran was the position of the camera.

American television journalists have been using what I call "ankle shots" on crowds for decades. It's quite effective at making a dozen or so people look like a huge crowd. The other angle, somewhat above eye level, is effective at making a cluster of a few hundred people look small in comparison with the surrounding street and buildings.

Some of the YouTube videos were taken from about mid-chest level. Quite a few of those also showed a wobbling, jerky image, as whoever was holding the camera ran for cover or dodged a club.

I selected these for their length, content, and comparatively steady camerawork.

There are a few lessons to be learned from these videos:
  • The crowds may be mostly men, but some of them have been going bald for a while - and women are protesting too
  • Not all Iranians are like their leaders
    • After expressing their opinion regarding the propriety of addressing citizen concerns with riot police, at least some of the 'rioters' took one of the police aside and assisted him
The motorcycle didn't fare as well as its rider. I suppose a lesson here is: Nothing says 'no' like a brightly burning motorcycle.

Whether or not this is the beginning of the end for the ayatollahs' regime, I think its clear that traditional information gatekeepers like journalists no longer have a near-monopoly on determining what the rest of us are allowed to see and hear.

That kind of freedom is messy and demands effort, but I think it's worth it.
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791
3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)) The Quotations Page
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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.