Citizen journalism rescues the fourth estate


This article comes from ideas stimulated by a Newsvine article by Anna Sebastian and the ensuing discussion. I thought it was going to be a comment, but it’s a bit long.

No one remembers now, but on Sept 11, 2000, in Melbourne, there was a demonstration against the World Economic Forum, which was being held in the Crown Casino. 21000 people, which is a lot for Melbourne, turned up to sit outside the chain-link barricades which had been erected and complain about the fact that the WEF had no interest in the peoples of the world without economic power.

The police had spent weeks telling everyone that they expected trouble, but it was a really well disciplined crowd, totally peaceful except for about 5 idiots in balaclavas who threw stones and water balloons once or twice.

Sorry to spend so long getting to the point… but each day the papers, especially the Herald-Sun, would make up lies about what happened. Big banner headlines about the violence, about the angry mobs. Photos of smiling protesters who were joking with the premier because they had his car surrounded and they weren’t letting him through, and he felt stupid because now he was stuck. And the photos were captioned “angry rioters threaten to overturn Premier’s car”. It was utterly crazy.

For most of the news outlets it was just that they had not a lot to say, so they magnified the lies of the police media relations. For the Herald Sun it was because their office tower was just up the road and the editor and owner had a grudge. Pretty much only Melbourne Indymedia had the truth.

And where that really mattered was that the police tactical response group were well aware that no-one was watching. No one who was going to create PR problems for the police, anyway. So after 2 days, they used horses to cordon off the entrance where we were sitting, with our arms linked and our backs to them, so that no inconvenient cameras could film what they did. They needn’t have bothered, since at 6.30am there weren’t any camera crews around yet. Then they charged in from behind with clubs and separated people one by one, pushing them through the horses cordon.

Actually that evening it was worse, because after dark they did the same thing again with much more violence. This time injuring a New Zealand MP and seriously injuring a few others. In both cases it was reported as if the violent mob had clashed with the police.

So what I’m getting at is that the media provide a very important function in keeping the institutions of a democracy honest. And I’m pointing out my own personal experience is that the mainstream media sometimes fall down on the job. I’d argue that it’s done so in regard of the US administration’s actions in recent times.

Citizen journalism was first seen to shore up some of the failures of the mainstream media in the Rodney King case. I believe that was just the beginning, and Newsvine may well be an important part of it.

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