Fine line be­tween cit­i­zen jour­nal­ist and halfwit

Are these am­a­teurs bear­ing wit­ness for pos­ter­ity or sim­ply seek­ing par­a­sitic fame out of a tragedy?

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters To The Editor - JULIET SA­MUEL FOL­LOW Juliet Sa­muel on Twit­ter @Ci­tysamuel; READ MORE at tele­graph.co.uk/opinion

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.

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