Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Official Channels

In an essay called "Official Channels" in the Video Vortex Reader, I wrote about the use of YouTube by national governments and the way that footage of dramatic scenes of conflict might be retasked and reevaluated by different parties. Now the Israeli government, known for imitating American web campaigns, is taking another page from the U.S. But in a recent talk I argued that it's a mistake to assume that "a picture is worth a thousand words," because images and video clips are inherently ambiguous and posting visual content always invites skeptical scrutiny by those searching for clues or conspiracies.

Obviously, the YouTube channel for the Israeli Defense Forces would like to prohibit what they consider to be misreadings and have added text and graphic elements that emphasize their rhetorical position. However, the mere fact of having so apparently edited the footage is now calling its authenticity into doubt, particularly since the Israeli commandos who stormed the Mavi Marmar, a Turkish ship attempting to charge through the Israeli blockage of Gaza, also seized digital photos and videos created by witnesses from the other side. As The Lede notes in Complete Video of Israeli Raid Still Missing, subsequent postings to the IDF channel continued to raise questions.

An article in the New York Times, "Videos Carry On the Fight Over Sea Raid," discusses how pro-Palestinian activists used a Livestream channel to show the convoy's progress. Right now the channel is largely devoted to news coverage about the aftermath in which nine activists were killed.

Update: The IDF has now posted new footage, which is actually taken from the demonstrators' cameras, called "Flotilla Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers," which uses similarly obvious editing techniques. Note that the "demonstrators" in earlier videos have now become "rioters."

Of course, I have argued that there is a technique in digital rhetoric called "mediated transparency," which draws attention to shooting and editing in order to grant footage more transparency. However, Israeli message manages seem to be doing something very different. Perhaps the most noticeable cut in the "rioters" video is between 21:36 and 22:04, where it seems that the activists may have been gathered for prayer. What is striking is that the videos either use moving images alone, or they only feature sound, which gives a strange otherworldly effect to many of their videos. For example, this video with soundclips, which may have indeed included real dialogue, given the inflammatory speech habits of some political extremists, sounds like an unlikely assortment of accents that is badly edited together and does little for the credibility of the Israeli side.

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