Investigative Journalism as Sousveillance

Imagine you live in a society where the only news you get comes from the government itself. You don’t hear anything about the problems they are facing. You don’t hear if politicians have acted in a questionable manner. You don’t hear anything but positive news about the people who are controlling most aspects of your life.

But then suddenly, a small independent publication begins to get passed around, without the government’s knowledge. Through investigative journalism, it tells stories of politicians spending the tax payers’ money on personal items, of politicians making decisions without regard for the welfare of their citizens. Through this small publication, at last the people of this society are able to see what the people in the positions of power are doing.

Investigative journalism often allows citizens to engage in sousveillence: the act of normal people observing those in positions of power. According to Bollier (2013) sousvelliance is a highly noble act that allows people to see when governments or other powerful entities are doing something unjust. “Sousveillance…has the virtue of empowering ordinary people to protect themselves and to hold power accountable.” This is a pretty exciting concept, and has allowed citizens to hold the powerful figures in their societies to account, from Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal to, in recent years, Eddie Obeid’s corruption.

Some argue that sousveillance, or transparency of government, is essential to have a well functioning government, in fact. “In order for us to collectively determine the scope and limits of citizen governance – we need to be able to peruse the full set of government functions – at federal, state and local levels,” (Styles, 2009).

Investigative journalism is one of the best methods we have for observing what the powerful are trying to keep under wraps, but there are several limitations that stop if from creating transparency in government.

  • It is becoming harder and harder to finance effective investigative journalists with the uncertainty of the media industry business model.
  • Media outlets are often owned by much larger corporations, which could result in investigative journalists turning a blind eye to corrupt things that the corporation is doing.
  • Those who are funded by the government (such as the ABC) may end up under pressure to expose particularly bad things that the government is doing.

So investigative journalism is indeed a highly prominent method of sousveillance. But is it the best way? It might not be as sustainable as it was before, and it by no means exposes everything. Citizen journalism could be a good replacement, but without the resources and funds of a big media organisation, citizens would not be able to go on lengthy investigations.

Sousveillance is seen by many as a highly important function for government, but in terms of journalism as sousveillance, it is very limited.

 

References:

Bollier D, 2013, ‘Sousveillance as a response to surveillance,’ David Bollier; news and perspectives on the commons November 24, http://bollier.org/blog/sousveillance-response-surveillance, accessed April 29, 2014

Styles C, 2009, ‘A government 2.0 idea-first, make all the functions visible,’ http://catherinestyles.com/2009/06/28/a-government-2-0-idea/, accessed April 29, 2014

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