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The advent of small digital cameras and laptops, in conjunction with the arrival of video on the web has opened the door to ‘television making’ to millions who previously were denied access.
This is a process that has just started and will now continue. We are only at the beginning.
But even at this early stage, it raises uncomfortable questions for some, as the world shifts.
A recent discussion on b-roll.net entitled “Why Citizen Journalists Can Be A Bad Idea”, raises this issue, (with a reference to an article in the Press Gazette).
We have come from an era in which television, and access to the ‘making’ of television news was in the hands of a very few. It was a very very controlled environment, and those very few who had control over television news espoused that they were doing this ‘in the public interest’, and were completely commited to ‘balanced’ reporting. They even had a variety of ‘Codes of Ethics’ in writing to prove the point.
I know. I was given a copy when I went to work for CBS News.
Also, very contrary to the basis of a free press.
The technology of television, until very recently, simply made the instrument far too expensive and complex for the average person to get their hands on.
Now all this has changed.
What does it mean?
Organizations such as The Poynter Institution or Gannett’s Freedom Forum periodically conduct national surveys on support for the First Amendment. The numbers tend to swing with national events. In 2002, in the wake of 9/11, they were at their worst, with 49% of respondents saying that they felt that the First Amendment went ‘too far’ in granting freedom to the press. Among the key findings:
For the first time in our polling, almost half of those surveyed said that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. About 49% said the First Amendment gives us too much freedom, up from 39% last year and 22% in 2000.
- The least popular First Amendment right is freedom of the press. Forty-two percent of respondents said the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, roughly the same level as last year.
- More than 40% said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance.
- Roughly half of those surveyed said the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism.
- More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of military policy.
Even now, 5 years later, the numbers have improved, but not by as much as one might like. One in three Americans would still limit free press rights.
The term “Citizen Journalist” is inherently incorrect.
In this country, every ‘citizen’ has the right to be a ‘journalist’ – that is, every citizen has the right to publish.
‘Journalism’ is not a ‘profession’, at least not in the sense of surgeon or engineer. It is not a small, elite class given the license to engage in public discourse for the benefit of the rest of us. Journalism is, instead, a right, a freedom and a responsibility. Those of us who elect to do this for ‘a living’ are merely on the cutting edge of a far larger group (the ‘we the people’), and hence exist to protect the greater rights of all every day.
The advent of small cameras, video cell phones and sites like Youtube or ctzn.tv open the door of television to “We The People”. That is how it should be. That is how it should have been from the beginning had cost and technology not allowed it then.
That is how it is going to be now.
This is not a ‘danger’ to society.
On the contrary, the limited and closed environment of conventional television news was the danger.
We like a free press.
Free presses are messy.
They are supposed to be.
And they are protected in the Constitution for a reason.