Citizen journalists make news via DV

Updated: 2007-08-06 15:50

This undated file photo shows a so-called citizen journalist adjusting his digital video in a street in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province. []
BEIJING -- China's amateur video artists, who used to content themselves recording friends' weddings, are now aiming to capture national news events -- and in doing so are making the news themselves.

Many local TV channels have regular programs composed of digital video (DV) clips shot by the public, most of which are very popular.

In north China's Henan Province, "DV Observation," a 30-minute news program launched in February, already has about 1,000 DV contributors in the province.

Wang Aiguo, a retired worker in Henan's capital Zhengzhou, is one of them. He captures stories, mostly human interest, with a DV camera that cost 8,000 yuan (1,100 U.S. dollar).

The TV channel pays only 100 yuan (13.17 U.S. dollars) per minute of video it broadcasts, rising to 120 or 180 yuan (15.81 to 23.72 dollars) depending on the quality, similar to the way freelancers are paid.

Which means citizen journalists like Wang don't do it for money.

"I'm not in it for money. My pension covers my expenses. I think it is interesting and that's all," Wang says.

Cui Jianzhong, chief producer of DV Observation says, "Our citizen contributors mostly cover the stories happening around them from their own perspective, which is different from professional journalists, but closer to our audience."

"We look for new and true stories about ordinary people that could only be recorded by their own DVs. In this sense, their work adds a grassroots point of view to modern journalism," says Liang Hong, chief producer of "Story" broadcast on in CCTV 10, a state TV channel.

However, the producers often fail to mention that the amateurs expand the resources and production of the TV stations at a minimum cost.

Citizen journalists have an advantage in covering breaking news -- with luck, they can be on the scene first.

Zhang Lei, a Chinese tourist, won fame when he recorded the tsuname that struck Indonesia in 2004, a clip that aired on CCTV 1, the country's leading news channel.

Most major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Zhengzhu, now have their own such programmes.

For example, "DV 365", in China's economic hub Shanghai, claims to have hundreds of contributors across the nation.

But many people object to the idea that every passerby can be a reporter, especially those being videotaped.

In early July, DV Observation broadcast footage of a suicide jumping from a tall building, stirring a heated discussion on whether the videotape has harmed the family's privacy.

"The death of the victim has already aroused great sadness in the family. How do they feel watching the scene repeatedly broadcast on TV?" said a viewer in a posting on the station's website.

But the DV reporters argue that it is difficult to label something private if it happens in a public place.

"A couple fighting with each other -- that's private. But if they fight on the street, attract lots of attention and affect the traffic, it becomes a public issue," says Wang.

Some also question whether an ordinary member of the public has the right to cover news without the license required for professional journalists in China and whether the news would be reliable as they don't need to meet the same standards as professional journalists.

"There's no law saying that only the professional journalists can cover news. China's constitution guarantees every citizen's freedom of speech," says Guo Zhixin, legal counsel for DV Observation.

The TV editors, who are professional, should play the role of gatekeeper and share responsibility with the contributors, Guo says.

The government has passed a regulation on broadcasting DV productions by TV stations, cinemas, film festivals or exhibitions, and the Internet.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television requires all DV productions to be approved before being broadcast according to national regulations on radio, TV, and film management.

"Broadcasters must seek advice on and approval for material concerning religion, nationality, and sensitive subjects from the local government departments concerned before broadcasting," the regulation says.

TV stations claim they are very careful about the content. "The producers tell us they only take human interest stories and social news -- no politics, no private events," Wang says.

Along with blogging and photographing by mobile phone, the digital video camera has opened a new avenue for ordinary Chinese to take a more active part in the media -- and its influence is still to be seen.

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