TV Networks covering the Iranian protests are smuggling news out of the country with cell phones, amateur video, and social networks — the same tools used by protestors still packing the country's streets.
"If this happened 10 years ago you wouldn't have the video phones, or even five years ago you wouldn't have sites like Twitter, or YouTube wouldn't be as ubiquitous," Jim Sciutto, ABC News' senior foreign correspondent, told TVGuide.com. "That's frustrating for these kinds of governments because they would love to be able, and I think they're used to, being able to shut this kind of thing down."
The Iranian government has tried to block the flow of information by barring journalists from the streets and refusing to renew their visas. Iranian police have used violence and intimidation against foreign reporters and their own people alike, Sciutto said. The typical tools of reporting — heavy camera and sound equipment — have become liabilities that would put an immediate target on the backs of reporters defying government restrictions.
Sciutto and his producer reported surreptitiously from the protests using cell phone cameras after their crew was detained Saturday and barred from using their normal equipment. They were among many journalists forced to leave the country this week when the government would not renew their week-long visas.
"Instead of a big television camera, you've got to use a cell phone. Instead of feeding it from a satellite feed point at state television, you have to send it on the Internet or on our mini disc that we can do from our hotel room, so you don't have the censors watching it," Sciutto said.
Technology has placed reporters on an equal footing with amateurs in their ability to quickly gather information. News networks have a wider built-in audience than any amateur, but that could soon change. With so many reporters ejected from Iran, a single viral video could turn someone who happened to be on hand to capture it into a major source of breaking news.
The networks, of course, flag their expertise in analyzing the raw video and providing long-range perspective. CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, a native of Iran, left Tuesday when her visa expired. But since then she has helped her network assess and explain amateur video and online updates — often stressing that the information hasn't been through CNN's normal vetting process.