The mobile phone video of the execution of Saddam Hussein is being treated as a defining moment in the development of citizen journalism. In the Independent on Sunday today, Tim Luckhurst writes that “for new-media enthusiasts, the fact that amateur film from a mobile telephone set the global news agenda shows citizen journalism has come of age.”
The video has clearly changed perceptions of the execution which was first seen in the sanitised official version. We know nothing yet about the intentions of the person who took it. We don’t know if he intended it to enter the public domain and, if he did, whether the purpose was to advance the cause of some sect or to provide additional information to the public. I have seen no evidence whatsoever of any journalistic intention.
We cannot accept that any picture, video or account of an event that comes into the public domain is journalism, citizen or otherwise, without stripping all meaning from the word.
What has changed is the means by which material such as the execution video can come into the public domain and immediately by-pass the mainstream media. Its widespread distribution also challenges the role of the press and broadcasters as arbiters of taste and decency.
That raises big enough issues without muddying the water with talk about citizen journalism.