Many Australians would be familiar with the recent viral exposure of a young man being subjected to police brutality at the Sydney Mardi Gras last weekend.
I will quickly preface what I’m about to write with the following: I found the video to be very difficult to watch. From what is visible, one police officer clearly crosses the line on the front of physical force, and the young man is visibly shaken as a result. I’m also open the notion that this may well also be a severe understatement. Additionally, at least two Police officers seem to be incredibly misinformed, or at the very worst, deliberately deceptive as to the rules surrounding privacy and filming in a public place.
It’s this notion, social media and it’s impact on the new world of open justice that I’m keen to explore.
We live in a world now where everyone has the power to click a button and publish. Mass media publications are rapidly going out of business because journalism has undervalued itself.
When I say undervalued, I’m talking about two key issues; The first is that Joe and Jane Citizen are now willing to fork out upwards fifteen dollars for a magazine filled with ads, whilst only paying two gold coins for a newspaper filled with informed journalism.
The other is that, with the constant pressure to churn out material in the hope of filling the void that the first issue left; informed, quality journalism has become an endangered species. So endangered in fact that most people don’t value it, or even recognise it when they see it. Quality journalism is simply overshadowed by the poor.
It’s not that people are incapable of seeing the difference between the two. It’s that most people simply don’t care. The danger surrounding this is that with the rise of social media, Joe and Jane citizen become journalists with their iPhones. Many young people have never seen the need to stay informed by reading journalism, the information democracy of social media now determines what we should and shouldn’t be informed about. The box is ticked, so why bother?
Because what the public is interested in automatically takes precedent over what is in the public interest.
Understand, I am in no way saying that this video of police brutality is not within the public interest. But through viewing it through the lens of Social Media and not within the context of journalism we, the public, have lost the protection that journalism provides.
Citizens are not journalists. We are not trained to remain unbiased, to allow the right of reply, to uphold ethical standards of being impartial and to allow the audience to make up its own mind. We are not trained to seek out context, to view each incident as a piece of a larger puzzle.
Does journalism even do this now? Some do, most do not.
To quote Gus, from Dan Simon’s “The Wire”:
“I think you need a lot of context to seriously examine anything.”
Citizens are trained to form opinions, and what’s more we love to voice them. We also love to join crusades, to write wrongs and vanquish evil. In fact we are so determined to do this, so entrenched is this concept in our upbringing that we will dismiss the puzzle all together in favour of doing what we feel is right at the time.
Ours is a noble people, but we are not naturally analytical. You see Watson, but you do not observe.
What we see in this viral video is one, terribly ugly fraction of a much larger picture. The larger picture may be just as ugly, if not uglier but we need to see a sufficient portion of it before we pass judgement.
We need journalism; we need people who will to build the picture for us. If we are suddenly going to be the jury, then we need all the facts as well. Without it we simply limited what we see.