IRAN

No green revolution, but a revolution in media

The Islamic Republic is engaged in a repression which seems to be slowly quelling the anti-government movement born after the presidential election of last June. On Tuesday night, a number of protestors tried to make themselves heard at the 'festival of fire', but were swiftly dealt with by the police. It seems that there will be no ‘green revolution' in Iran, or at least not for the time being. But by putting amateur images at the heart of newsrooms around the world, the Iranians have already succeeded in achieving a different revolution; a revolution in media. Read more...

Advertising

Julien Pain is a journalist specialised in the handling of amateur images. He's editor of the France 24 Observers website and TV show.

The Islamic Republic is engaged in a repression which seems to be slowly quelling the anti-government movement born after the presidential election of last June. On Tuesday night, a number of protestors tried to make themselves heard at the 'festival of fire', but were swiftly dealt with by the police. It seems that there will be no 'green revolution' in Iran, or at least not for the time being. But by putting amateur images at the heart of newsrooms around the world, the Iranians have already succeeded in achieving a different revolution; a revolution in media.

There's no certain outcome to speak of in this political crisis, but for television journalists and audiences alike, there will certainly been a before and an after to the Iranian ‘green movement'. Vietnam was the first war to be followed live by TV journalists; the Iranian uprising will remain the first conflict followed almost exclusively by means of amateur images. Why did the arrival of the ‘citizen' image emerge now, and why in Tehran?

Firstly, because the Iranian authorities control traditional media in the country with an iron fist. According to Reporters Without Borders, some 12 Iranian newspapers have been closed down and over 100 journalists imprisoned since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected. As for foreign journalists, they've been made redundant. As of 16 June 2009, they simply no longer had the right to cover the opposition protests.

Under these constraints, it's not surprising that demonstrators turned to the internet to convey information about their actions. Their ease and ingenuity in doing this; with the use of blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, came as a direct result of the years of censorship that the authorities had inflicted upon them.  

Tehran's censorship programme is not the only thing to have sparked the media revolution however. Iranian web users were able to take strength from other movements consigned to the internet under similar conditions. Not long before the green movement began uploading their amateur videos and photos, others had paved the way. Two groups in particular: in September 2007 the Burmese monks, and in March 2008, the Tibetan monks. In both cases the first images we saw of the repression came through the web, and most of them were amateur.

The Iranian protestors transformed what was previously a tendency into a media revolution. Green movement demonstrations were not filmed by one, or even ten amateur reporters, as was the case in Burma, but by thousands of people. Behind every police officer there were dozens of hands brandishing mobile phones. Conveying an image was no longer the job of a journalist, or even an amateur journalist, but the work of an entire crowd. Unlike their Burmese or Tibetan predecessors, the majority of the Iranian protestors were equipped with mobile phones that were now fitted with cameras capable of taking photos and recording videos of a decent quality. Nothing near professional quality, but decent enough to be aired on television.

A final factor can explain the birth of this revolution in Iran. Something that happened by hazard, but which was also optimised by web users. No other video played such a determining role as that of Neda Agha Soltan, uploaded to YouTube on 20 June - just days after the election results were announced. This footage, retrieved by TV channels the world over, transformed this young woman into the symbol of the green movement. It also made the protestors realise just how powerful the amateur image could be. From then until now, excluding the days when the internet was heavily restricted by the authorities, the flood of images filmed on camera phones and digital cameras has not ceased.

The Iranian protestors, in relying like never before on amateur images, have launched a transformation in the work of the media. For journalists nine months ago, YouTube was still a source of material for ‘out of the ordinary' stories. Since then, international and national newsrooms have come to understand that they can't ignore this new medium. It's a medium that, with the technological progress (in both quality and quantity) of portable filming apparatus, will take an increasingly important role in the news. The task now is to enforce a professional approach to these images; that means the application of a meticulous verification system. These videos and photos, which come from unknown sources, can be as dangerous as they are interesting, and the consequences of error or manipulation are grave.  

Even if it hasn't succeeded in changing the political system in Iran, the green movement has pushed journalists to seriously question the use of amateur images and to rethink their place in the production of information. A challenge indeed, but a fascinating one at that."