As any celebrity will tell you, there is now a camera around every corner. This is bad news if you are a Hilton or Spears and have yet to grasp the fundamentals of underwearing, however, it is hugely exciting for citizen journalism. The first pictures that came out of the tunnels in the July 7 bombings came from camera phones. The massive tsunami was brought to life by tourists camcorders.
This is a good thing.
However, the other side of the story is the rise of happy slapping. I’d heard of this lovely social phenomenon before it hit the frontpages from a teacher in a not particularly nice school in Hackney, who’d been hit in the face whilst trying to break up a fight staged for cameraphones. (A sidenote : it started in the days before YouTube but I guess it only spread to everyone once that great video distributor started).
To combat this France has decided that any recording of violence by a non-professional journalist will be punishable and “anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act” (via Infoworld).
Whilst no one wants to watch chavs hitting strangers what happens if a Rodney King situation arises? Will witnesses who gather evidence of violent crimes be prosecuted? If riot police attack a crowd (and the French CRS are partial to a bit of baton) will the passerby with a video camera be prosecuted?
At the same time there is talk of “ a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules.” This is a clear sign that they don’t “get it” because this certification exists : inbound links and reputation already work as certification for news. In true Economist style, I think I can say this is unnecessary regulation where the free market already works.