Typical (blind) interview with a hero of the square last night would go like this:
BBC Deskjockey: 'You've been fighting for freedom now for over two weeks, you've been shot at by police, attacked by thugs with knives and whips, slept on concrete for days and days, and were told today by the army that your demand would be met tonight, and now Mubarak says he's staying. How does that make you FEEL?
'Hero:'How the fuck do you think it makes me feel you stupid fucking idiot?'
Deskjockey: 'But shouldn't you all just now go home in case the Muslim Brotherhood takes over and plunges the world into the dark Ages?'
Hero: 'Who is this blithering idiot?'Deskjockey:'But you don't agree on anything, they're bound to win'.Hero: 'Yes we do, we're all agreed that we want democracy. It's called Solidarity. Once we have democracy, people can start disagreeing again and the ballot box will be the judge.
'Deskjockey: 'But it's chaos! A political vacuum! Will no one think of the oil prices! We're all doomed!'
Hero: Oi veh!In one of the slimiest inversions of the truth in recent broadcasting history, solidarity has been constantly depicted as fragmentation, revolutionary order as chaos, and democracy as a danger.
Needless to say, other broadcasters have been no better, but I don't care about them. And at least they had cameras and crew on the ground, showing the faces of the people. The inexplicably distant and objectifying camera-work of the BBC from their hotel window depicted a diagram of a mindless, inarticulate mob. We might just as well have been reading Churchill's reports of the Boer War.
Skline. Talking Head. Voiceover. Studio Guest. And round and round again, with no footage from the events taking place. This is a grave distortion by omission, sending all kinds of negative messages.
And the insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood would inevitably destroy the world, plus the endless static shot of the vast organised crowd, made Tahrir Square look like the Kabba during the Hadj, at times. Was the BBC trying to say that the Revolution was a triumph for Al Qaida? Almost explicitly.
Has journalism died at the BBC? It's difficult to see how the Mubarak dictatorship was not heartened by this travesty of reporting, which amounted to nothing more than the White House press office line. And if there are deaths this afternoon, some of the blood will be on the BBC's hands.
Contrast the BBC with the still-despised social media. The influence of social networks was critical, especially in moderating the revolution. Social media (of all kinds) subject the individual’s opinion to collective scrutiny, and nobody likes to look an idiot, so extreme or stupid ideas will tend to be informed or ridiculed away. So because the people feel they can collectively influence the tactics and direction of a revolution (as the shanty resistance movement in Nairobi found) they do not feel the need for a Great Leader, earthly or supernatural or a combination of the two. We could in fact be seeing the end of the era of hysterical political religious activism, and I’m sure the people of Iran are watching events closely.
The key thing is the sense of engagement and, for want of a better word, fraternalism. So however much the Nay Sayers may claim that social media had little measurable effect on the Iranian protests, this is to completely ignore the effect on the confidence and consciousness of the individual of being able to reach a community and not feel alone and completely powerless, or to use American cultural terminology, to be a ‘LOSER’. Power is a matter of perspective, as much as guns, which is why the world changed when we learned that the Sun did not orbit the Earth.
And the beauty is that a regime cannot win by simply turning off the Net. Firstly, they rely on it even more than the people, so in a strangling race, they will always be the first to croak. Secondly, switching off the net sends the direct message to the people that the state has played its last card and that they should instantly take to the streets. In chess terms it is a holding move, but one which sends a clear sign of weakness and leads to only one conclusion. And even then, everyone with a desktop printer now has a printing press, and they cannot all be smashed in the night. So as long as the supply of paper holds out, essential information can be distributed.
And all the while, people are getting more articulate and image literate by trial and error and peer review. Which bodes ill for the propagandists and advertising agencies of the future.