BBC's John Simpson Comments On Citizen Reporting In Iran

iran_woman_green.jpgSusan notes: last week while in London, I attended a fundraising event for Help For Heroes, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to help wounded British servicemen and women. The evening kicked off with a hugely entertaining speech by John Simpson, World Affairs Editor for the BBC. In the Q & A session, I asked him about the role of citizen reporting....

This is a transcript of my question and his answer; the podcast is here.

Susan from AWR:
  Thank you for your wonderful storytelling. It's just fantastic to see somebody who's so engaging live as they are on the television, and thank you also for your fantastic story about Iran; and that's what my question is related to. I just wondered if you could comment on the role of citizen reporters versus professional journalists such as yourself, particularly in the kind of situation that is ongoing now in Iran.

John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor: Citizen reporting is really the big phenomenon of our time, and I suspect that it's what going to be for the future. Now, I mean, just take the example of the BBC, for instance. We've all now been chucked out, and we had a resident correspondent there who was chucked out. He was accused in one of the newspapers, admittedly not necessarily by the government, of having paid money to somebody or another to shoot that girl who died, which is about as offensive and evil an accusation that you could imagine. He was chucked out for that.

I was chucked out, and then I was only given a ten-day visa and although I carefully changed the date in my passport. I couldn't change it too much because I think it was 11 and I couldn’t change it to anything to sort of different like 13 or 19.

So, but I did manage to change it a bit and I got a couple of extra days, but that was all. And my colleague, Jeremy Bowen, also got chucked up after 10 days. So there's nobody from the BBC there; and yet, I saw some of my colleagues from something called the BBC Persia television service, which started out at the beginning of the year as a fantastic thing, heavily watched service, watched it in Iran when it's not being jammed by the authorities, which is quite a lot of the time. It has a very enthusiastic response from ordinary people there. I think I'm right in saying but I might have got the figures wrong, but not very much so. I mean, they're still getting eight video messages a minute from people in Iran. That's from the hours of kind of when Iran wakes up to when it goes to bed again. That's just people filming things with their mobile phones.

In the end we went out; we took kind of strategic decision, a very pompous way of saying, I just said “let’s do it”, to go out again every day when the demonstrations were on while we were there. They said we weren't supposed to and I just thought that, you know, how often do you get to see this sort of thing. But you know, as you can imagine, I mean, three quite burly Brits, actually one’s a Bulgarian. The camera man is bigger than me in all senses you know, with the camera on top, I mean, it's really quite a sight. People could see us from long distances, which was slightly disturbing.

In the end we gave up that kind of filming, and we just did what they were doing: filming on our mobile phones. Actually, the difference wasn’t very great in terms of quality, which I pointed out aggressively to the cameraman. That's how we started working in the end, and that's, I think, what we should do.

The BBC, of course, has endless problems about making sure that pictures are genuine because it would be so easy to do a hoax thing, which get everybody into trouble; but they only use the ones they can stand up. That's, I think, really probably one of the future ways of television news is going to go.

Here's the podcast:

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Help For Heroes
John Simpson, World Affairs Editor for the BBC
Wikipdedia on John Simpson