Media Witnessing and the ‘Crowd-sourced Video Revolution’

Andén-Papadopoulos, Kari
Visual communication (London, England)

Focusing on the critical case of the mobile phone footage of Gaddafi’s death in the context of Swedish television news and its audiences, this article considers how the nature of ‘media witnessing’ is being transformed through the employment of user-generated footage. On the basis of a combined text/audience analysis study, it shows that citizen video encodes an extraordinary sense of presence and participation. Critically, however, its facilitation of ‘pseudo-eyewitnessing’ is not enough in itself to sustain practices of bearing witness. Rather, the author shows that moral responsibility is fundamentally conditioned by the symbolic management of distance – which, audiences stress, is most efficiently provided by professional news packages. Importantly, then, this empirical study corroborates the so far mainly theoretical claim in literature on media witnessing which advocates that media representations need to maintain a ‘proper distance’ in order to construct scenes of suffering and violence as a moral cause to spectators.