weeks the press has been full of the rise of the “citizen journalist”,
and identified some of the dangers as well as the opportunities that
this phenomenon presents to media organisations.
bomb attacks on 7 July, newspapers and broadcasters were inundated with
photos and video footage taken by survivors and bystanders – much of
which was unsolicited and arrived within minutes of an incident
occurring. Internet moblogs (websites consisting of content posted from
a mobile or portable device) were nearly overwhelmed by images.
organisations have quickly recognised the capacity of such images to
add new dimensions to a story and to satisfy the imperatives of
breaking news coverage, Many websites and news channels are now
actively soliciting the submission of photos and images by the public.
However, the use of unmediated images submitted by members of the public is not without its complications for news editors.
the reliability (and commercial or editorial value) of the footage and
the circumstances in which it was taken will be no easy task. Because
of its uncertain provenance it will inevitably be more difficult to
ensure that material supplied by “citizen” rather than professional
journalists is authentic (news organisations were inundated with fake
tsunami photos following last year’s disaster)n and also complies with
the PCC and Ofcom codes. The Ofcom code, in particular, imposes an
explicit duty on broadcasters to ensure that third-party material
complies with the provisions of the code. It is possible that in the
future news organisations may seek to address these issues by teaming
up with telecoms companies to allow editors to verify more easily the
identity and location of the citizen journalist submitting photographs
or video footage.
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ)
wrote a letter to Press Gazette (5 August), criticising some media
organisations for encouraging members of the public to “go out and get”
news footage, potentially endangering themselves and others. The police
have also sought to prevent media organisations from broadcasting
mobile phone footage before it has been analysed as evidence. Fears
have been expressed that the broadcast of such footage could hinder
ongoing investigations by releasing information not yet in the public
domain. These requests have been rejected by many broadcasters as too
broad, although they have indicated they would pass to the police any
footage that might be considered “key evidence”. But the police can do
more than ask – the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 makes it
possible for them to seek a court order and seize all relevant material.
CIoJ has also been critical of news websites seeking to obtain generous
and potentially lucrative licences from viewers by offering terms and
conditions that could take advantage of the inexperience of amateurs in
dealing with copyright. However, often the meeting of an experienced
news editor and citizen journalist will be mutually rewarding, as was
the case of the video enthusiast who was able to capture the arrest of
the 21 July bomb suspects. Ultimately he was able to negotiate the
exclusive sale of this iconic footage to ITV News and the Daily Mail in
a bidding war that rose to what ITV News editor Deborah Turness
described understatedly as “fairly serious sums”.
unlikely that the citizen journalists will provide any kind of threat
to the professionals, although in future broadcasters may have to pay
for amateur material submitted via the internet, and an account of
profits where there has been syndication. The courts may well step in
to ensure citizen journalists receive financial value for their work
and broadcasters may discover that some of their terms and conditions
are not worth the digital ether they’re written on.
James Quartermaine is a solicitor in the Media Group of City legal practice Charles Russell LLP