Politicians fear power of VJs

Rory Peck panel, from left:Nik Gowing, BBC World presenter; Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News diplomatic correspondent; Paul Keetch MP, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman; Vaughan Smith, freelance cameraman/producer, Frontline Television

Politicians will become increasingly concerned with the power of the media as technology such as video cameras makes it easier to get news pictures from around the globe, a Liberal Democrat MP has warned.

Speaking during a debate on the impact of videojournalism, Paul Keetch, the party’s defence spokesman, warned that as new equipment made the journalist’s job "easier and easier", politicians would become increasingly concerned about "limiting their activities".

"Your ability to record instantaneously becomes easier, and that can be relayed to almost anywhere in the world by satellite," he said at the launch of this year’s Rory Peck Awards in London.

"On the one hand you have journalists as the witnesses and on the other hand we have ourselves as the controllers, the people who want to spin, to make the news and determine the news. It seems to me that videojournalism and technology is denying the politician the upper hand on that."

BBC World presenter Nik Gowing, who chaired the debate, said he was concerned that it appeared "there is an instinct now among those in power to say, ‘all of you as journalists, particularly videojournalists, are threatening our power to rule and run the country and mount an operation in the way we see fit’."

Describing her recent experiences reporting on Zimbabwe’s presidential elections and the Middle East conflict, Channel 4 News correspondent Lindsey Hilsum said both the Israeli and Zimbabwean governments had tried to stop the media taking pictures and reporting.

She argued that videojournalism made reporting more dangerous and sometimes more difficult, but doubted that it made the media more powerful.

"Very few pictures are coming out of Zimbabwe at the moment because it really is so dangerous," said Hilsum, who added that with the introduction of "exorbitant" fees, the government was "putting up more obstacles to make it more difficult".

She also claimed that in Israel the government was trying to stop journalists from reporting what was taking place, so that the troops seemed increasingly to see journalists as the enemy and the government didn’t seem to mind what happened to them.

"We don’t brave the dangers and do this because we have political power, but because it is for its own sake important to record what we can, to bear witness and to tell the truth to the best of our abilities," she said.

But Keetch said that the relationship between the media and the government in the UK was "on the low edge of the same graph that takes you up to the heights that we see in Israel".

He said: "Politicians want to control our news, be it local, national or international. In my case, I want to see what is on the front page of the Hereford Times and make sure I am in there a certain number of times. Your job, it seems to me, is to try and frustrate us and actually witness and report the real issues. You are more politically powerful than you have ever been and in some cases you are in greater danger because of that power."

By Julie Tomlin

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