Fine line between citizen journalist and halfwit
Are these amateurs bearing witness for posterity or simply seeking parasitic fame out of a tragedy?
In a terrorist attack, most of us like to think we’d react in the “right” way. We’d be a hero, surely, and throw bottles and chairs at the baddies – or at least run and hide.
Increasingly, however, there is a small group of people who, when faced with a marauding knifeman or a bomb, neither run nor fight, but take out a phone and start the camera rolling.
The bungled explosion of a “bucket bomb” on a London Tube train yesterday was comprehensively recorded by just such people. Within an hour, photos and footage were everywhere. One film showed the smouldering, half-exploded device sitting in a Tube carriage as people peered at it through the doors. One man can be overheard saying: “This is still alive, by the way.” A woman responds, in a surprised tone: “Oh, that bag’s on fire.” They stand watching the half-detonated bomb until, a moment later, a man strides up and says, as if addressing kindergarten children: “Guys, let’s get away and let’s move right down the end of the platform.” Someone should give that man a common sense award.
I’d like to say that these halfwits with their camera phones are irredeemable idiots. But a peculiar quality of journalists is that we empathise with these idiots, the people whose instinct is to run towards trouble for the simple purpose of bearing witness and recording facts (or, perhaps, the excitement).
Journalism used to be seen as a noble pursuit. Now, it’s more often seen as prurient. With so much of our lives online, there is a blurry line between bearing witness for the sake of posterity and filming a tragedy for the sake of clicks and parasitic fame. At some point, the cameraman’s insouciance becomes voyeurism. That’s no less true if yesterday’s witnesses inadvertently helped police, who were soon scouring the footage for clues. Just as often, the cameraready observer helps the bad guys by creating their propaganda for them.
In that sense, at least, yesterday’s citizen journalists cannot be accused of helping the cause of terror. The bomb did burn over a dozen people, but the amateur footage, and the distinct lack of terror it records, also shows that our security services have made it really quite difficult to mount a major terror attack. Are the purveyors of this botched bucket bomb going to bring down our civilisation? I don’t think so. If Britain doesn’t get a trade deal with the EU, there will be no winners. The fear of not getting a deal, however, might be useful.
This might be why France has been privately playing it up. Financial firms based in London have held meetings with regulators and central bank officials across the Continent, but I’m told that none of them can match France for ruthlessness.
French officials are telling firms to plan on the basis that there will be no Brexit deal. This makes prudential sense, of course: regulators ought to pressure companies to plan for worst-case scenarios. However, the message from French institutions is particularly consistent and coordinated, one senior financial source told me, going beyond regulatory caution and into speculation. The reason, he concluded, is that they want to get business on the move as quickly as possible. The fear of no deal is a way of drumming up momentum to favour the continent’s lesser financial centres, namely Paris.
It won’t work, the same source told me, because even if France’s current government is business-friendly, the high risk of a reversal in the political environment makes it too risky to move everything there. He was impressed by the effort though.
Our own government, which has so far said diddly-squat about how it is preparing for any collapse in the Brexit negotiations and which appears to have little co-ordination or strategy, should, in this regard, try to act a little more French.
ITV has created a sordid, new reality television show, called Bromans. It pits eight suspiciously tanned lads and their girlfriends against one another in a “gladiatorial contest”. I suppose it was naive of me to be interested in this modern pop culture take on the Romans. The girlfriends’ first task in the show was to scrabble around in the sand, wearing gold bikinis, finding clothes for their naked partners to wear. It was screened in slow motion.
Later, one of the boys, explaining his interest in the ancient world, declared: “The Romans and that, they believed we lived on a flat Earth. I believe that too. It’s flat.”
Unfortunately for Bromans, the Romans were not only aware of the Earth’s roundness, but also rather prudish. Among all pagan practices, stories of temple prostitution, in which women had a religious obligation to sell their bodies, were seen as particularly shocking (though probably also titillating).
What they would make of Bromans is anyone’s guess, but what’s not in doubt is that they would improve the programme immeasurably by feeding everyone to the lions at the end.