The police raid in Forest Gate on 2 June got me thinking about my role in bringing people news as a "citizen journalist".
Acting on anti-terrorist intelligence that would later turn out to be faulty, police raided the house at 46 Lansdown Road. One man, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, was shot and wounded. He and his brother, Abul Koyair, were arrested and later released without charge.
- June 12, 2018
- October 28, 2016
- November 4, 2013
I am an emergency medical technician working for the London Ambulance Service, and Forest Gate is on my patch. During the raid, the police had an ambulance on stand-by down the road — apparently it was a nice bit of quiet overtime.
When the ambulance service works this closely with the police, there is a fair swap of gossip. For about a week before the news was made public, I knew that the police had found £38,000 in cash in the house. At least that is what one of the crews on scene had told me. The money was apparently kept in black binbags.
So what was I supposed to do with this information? If I were a true "citizen journalist" then I should surely publish this information on my blog. With the amount of national media attention that the story was getting, disclosing this "insider" information would have assured a large leap in traffic to my site. I might have been the centre of attention for a while. It's all good publicity if I was trying to sell a book in the near future.
On the other hand, if I did publish, it could wreck any potential legal case against the householders. It may well get an ambulance crew and a loose-lipped policeman into trouble.
It was also an unconfirmed rumour. If it turned out to be false, then my reputation would possibly take a hit and I could leave myself open to a libel case.
Indeed, after The Sun splashed the story about the cash on 15 June, the shot man's sister, Humeya Kalam, condemned the apparent police leak and the potential implication from the story that there was something sinister about the cash. Several papers have speculated that the brothers could sue the police for libel damages following their wrongful arrest.
So what should I do? Publish and be damned, poorly protected by my "amateur" status? Or should I keep the information to myself — supposedly betraying the whole reasoning behind citizen journalism?
I decided that it would be best to keep the information to myself. The risks to myself, the police, the ambulance crew and to the householders themselves (who might have had a completely reasonable explanation for the money) could not be balanced by the benefits of a "scoop", no matter how much this author craves attention.
Quite possibly it is this lack of knowledge about the legal and ethical rights and wrongs of publishing that makes "citizen journalism" both exciting and dangerous. Would anyone care if another blogger gets taken down? Bloggers have already been sued, and I think there will be more legal action in the future.
I have no idea about the ethics of journalism, which is perhaps why my blog doesn't often touch on the news or dig out a story.
I'm not a journalist, I'm not trained to be a journalist and to be fair, I don't think I'm smart enough to be a journalist. But if it were my desire to become a "citizen journalist", there would be nothing stopping me from going out looking for stories. And those stories could get me into a lot of legal trouble.
To all those bloggers who consider themselves "citizen journalists", be careful. It's not as simple as stringing sentences together on a website.
"Citizen journalist" is terrible jargon. The much nicer phrase "participatory media" is much more fitting for what we bloggers are doing. It describes how citizens may assist the regular news outlets by providing pieces that can be checked and edited by professionals.
But does this damage the "truth" of citizen media? I don't know — which is why I'm putting these half-formed thoughts out here. Please feel free to tell me I'm being an idiot.
What do you think? Share your thoughts about this topic at /discuss Journalism.