Ranjona Banerji: Can videos be used as ‘proof’ of a situation

22 Jan,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


A video recently went viral across the US and then the world. It showed a white male teenager looking straight into the face of an older American Indian gentleman. The teenager had a smile on his face. The older man was drumming and singing. The teenager was a bystander in a crowd of his schoolmates who were singing and laughing. The older man was part of a protest march undertaken by indigenous peoples.

The video led to outright and strong condemnation of the behaviour of all the teenagers, and this one in particular. The children all belonged to a Catholic school, many wore ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps and most were white. The video looked like a classic confrontation between privilege and a fight for basic rights. And it was discussed as such. The smirking rich white boy wilfully being rude and obnoxious to the Omaha Elder.

However, another video emerged later which somewhat confused the issue further. Meanwhile, the older man said he felt threatened and disrespected. The teenager said he was trying to defuse the situation because his schoolmates and he were being attacked.

This article in the Atlantic does not defend or justify either video or the responses. But it does ask us to question the use of videos as “proof” of a situation.



Over and again, the quick dissemination of information, including videos and the strong demands from social media that we make our view felt, only leads to a further complication of a situation. Few of us are technologically qualified to assess whether such videos have been manipulated. And most of us feel the pressure to respond first and investigate later. For journalists, this trigger-happy form of news coverage is dangerous and counter-productive. It may get us an instant spike in interest, but in the long term, we are either sending out lies which we haven’t bothered to question, or we are letting down our mandate. Whichever way you look at it, journalism and the general public suffer.

People spread their own agendas on social media. When the mainstream media does it, there are reasons for concern. Yes? No? Or should we just forget about this and move on to the next “controversy” as ever?




I have nothing against the next article linked here. I’m just using it as an example of the problems created by medical journalism. There are people suffering or dying all sorts of incurable diseases all over the world. They and their loved ones often scour information sources for cures and solutions. And articles and headlines like these only serve to make their pain greater.

“Cure to breast cancer may have been found”: I have read any number of articles like these only to find that the “cure” is possibly decades away. It is not going to help me or others like me. There has to be a way not to use clickbait techniques for more serious issues, or am I just hoping for too much?


Here, the headline draws you in: “Blood test could detect Alzheimers over 10 years earlier”. Having got there, you learn that someone is indeed working on such a blood test. The Guardian article itself is based on an article published by researchers in Nature Medicine. So we have a report of a report and if you read through, this test is not going to help your mother or your aunt or your friend right now. One understands that medical journalism for the layperson is only trying to make us better informed but it appears to have missed the bus when it comes to the manner in which such information is shared with the world.

Responsibility is a big word, but one can only hope that someone somewhere cares a bit, in both of the examples I have provided today.

On that happy note, am sure that the constant turmoil of Indian politics and its coverage will provide plenty of cannon fodder later this week!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Edior, MxMIndia. The views here are personal



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