- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Vacation videos provided compelling evidence of the devastation resulting from the tsunami that struck South Asia 12 days ago.

Startling camcorder snippets of relentless water and astonished onlookers became true eyewitness news, brought to a global audience by broadcasters who, in some cases, paid thousands of dollars for the rights.

“Amateur film and video footage has been a factor in news coverage for years. The difference now is digital technology. High-resolution cameras are easily had by the public, and news organizations can access the images electronically,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association.

“And from what I’ve seen, the networks made proper use of the footage,” she added.

The Washington-based group offers ethical guidelines on the use of graphic images, advising broadcasters to ensure violent or shocking content is justified and in the public interest — a discussion of considerable interest in light of September 11 or more recent al Qaeda beheading videos.

But the amateur hour is over.

Networks since have dispatched sizable teams to the 12 countries affected by the disaster. CBS anchorman Dan Rather already has donned a flight suit and toured Thailand by helicopter. CNN alone has more than 80 people in the region and offered a special last night on the fate of flood orphans.

The vacation videos, in the meantime, have found a second life on the Internet.

At least 34 quickie Web sites — loosely classified as “video logs” or “vlogs” — have sprung up, offering such titles as “British Tourist” and “Penang,” according to Blogsnow.com, a service that tracks the popularity of several million Internet sites.

In its first four days, Australia-based Waveofdestruction.org, for example, attracted close to 700,000 visitors eager to see a showcase of 25 “tsunami videos.”

Mindful of ownership issues, most networks dutifully bought the rights to the videos from those who shot them — paying as much as $20,000 in some cases, press reports said. The “vlogs” don’t play by the same rules.

“At a media company, I’m sure there are channels you have to go through — copyright, legal, editorial, etcetera. Blogging is instant,” Geoffrey Huntley, who founded Waveofdestruction.org, told the Wall Street Journal.

Many of the sites use “bit torrent technology,” which enables users to download videos or movies in little time.

In the meantime, press coverage of the disaster has received mixed reviews.

Earlier this week, one Lutheran relief organization condemned “feel good” stories about Americans donating clothes to tsunami victims, rather than emphasizing the more immediate need for cash donations.

“Asia’s tsunami is open season” for the Western press, said Bombay-based Ashok Malik of the Indian Express newspaper, who complained of insensitive coverage of the victims.

“Why has Southeast Asia’s biggest tragedy become every American network’s ghoulish Disneyland party? Has disaster finally found its paparazzi?” he asked.

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