The revolution will be televised

Those of us growing up in the 1960s might remember the song by Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not be Televised. If you read over his lyrics, you will see lots of cultural references to the era. Remember, Vietnam was our first televised war. Before we had the Internet, we all watched the evening network news and could see the daily battles, body counts, and see for ourselves what was happening half a world away. It was a transformative media moment.

While it wasn’t live, it was very powerful TV. We had the full filtering and editing prowess of the network TV news organizations, with reporters on the ground and editors back in New York to package it neatly into 22-minute programs. We had Uncle Walter and Chet and David to tell us what was the significance of what we were seeing, and we had a simple us-versus-them war (which we lost big time, by the way). How simple those days seem now.

This week we witnessed another transformative moment, using the Internet and live streaming technology as another weapon. This time we are seeing events from the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as a group of boats were stopped by Israeli military on their way to try to break the Gaza blockade. The flotilla came well prepared, not with traditional weaponry but with TV cameras and Web uplinks to broadcast what was going on to the world at http://www.livestream.com/insaniyardim.

The Livestream.com site is a tool that anyone with a Webcam and a broadband Internet connection can quickly become their own broadcaster, and the site carries thousands of live video feeds all day long.

Max Haot, Livestream’s co-founder said in the New York Times that he thought about whether to censor the live flotilla video but decided not to do so. He thought the Gaza flotilla was “a controversial but genuine humanitarian mission.” Still, he found himself thinking that his company needed policies in place to handle live videos of conflicts in the future. “After the events unfolded, I spent most of my Monday wondering if we had helped terrorists or a great humanitarian cause.”

Part of the issue was that we could watch the scene unfiltered, yet we still don’t really know what happened. Were the flotilla organizers humanitarian aid workers or terrorists with a very clever propaganda agenda? Who attacked whom? Was the concrete and steel being carried by the flotilla going to be used in Gaza to protect civilians or store munitions? What we do know is that at least nine people were killed during the raid. What we don’t know is how many Gazans and Israelis die every day because of the sad circumstances there. What we forget is that Gaza is run by a group that doesn’t even want to acknowledge Israel’s existence. The deeper that I and anyone else dug into this, the more unanswered questions I came away with.

Perhaps as the other journalists who were on the boats can tell their stories we can assemble a more complete picture. (The Israelis confiscated their equipment shortly after they boarded the boats.) But one thing is clear: Wars will be fought in real-time in the future, with world-wide audiences. In the words of Scott-Heron, “You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.”

“[Israel] may be a start up nation, but we are bricks and mortar communicators. Our adversaries have control-alt-deleted us,” writes Amir Mizroch, the executive editor of The Jerusalem Post, in Wired.

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