French photojournalist Mani provided London’s Channel 4 with another short documentary from inside Syria’s borders, this time documenting the citizen vee-jay phenomenon taking place, in which young Syrians risk their lives to document battles, gather body counts and report on-scene in clips to be broadcast by foreign news organizations unable to send teams of reporters into the violence-ridden nation.
In the 1-minute documentary, which Channel 4 aired Tuesday, Mani validates many foreign journalists’ misgivings about trusting the material provided to them by activists playing the role of citizen journalists.
While filming a meeting between Syrian vee-jay activist Omar Tellawi and his video team, Mani catches Tellawi lamenting that, since they are to be filming too far from the action, they’ll “have to set a tire on fire,” in order to create smoke. Realizing that he is being filmed, Tellawi turns to the camera with a telling, sheepish grin.
Mani later documents Tellawi as he delivers the report on a rooftop with smoke rising in the background. He then cuts to a shot of the ground below, where a man stands guard over a flaming tire.
Mike Giglio at Newsweek wrote a thorough piece yesterday at The Daily Beast regarding the issues journalists face in trusting Syrian sources’ footage, knowing full well that the people providing the footage are, in fact, activists with a particular goal in mind.
In Giglio’s article, as well as through Channel 4′s commentary, however, one is reminded that the activists are not only fighting a battle of information against a very resourceful Assad government, but also that the shelling, violence and death toll remain very much a reality — regardless of any vee-jay embellishments.
The photojournalist Mani notes that this was just one instance, and that he did not see any other examples of embellishment or fabrication before or after the tire-burning broadcast.
Journalists will continue to work with Syrian activists who are risking their lives to get the story out from their own country, but there still remains the issue of trust. As many journalists have come to understand, if a source is caught lying about one thing, his or her entire story must then come into question.
This sudden depletion of trust makes any future transaction of information between source and journalist much more difficult, and video activists will perhaps notice an increased skepticism from foreign correspondents looking to use their footage.