TV News and Facebook Live

Television’s last bastion – live news – could be under threat. At least if one goes by the traction that two events got when they were broadcast live on social media last week. These were not shot with fancy news cameras by specialist videographers; they were shot using simple smart phones. The broadcast platform: Facebook, which has more than a billion users world wide and more than 150 million in India.

The first was when Lavish Reynolds opened up her Facebook Live app and started filming her boyfriend Philando Castile bleeding to death after being shot by the Falcon Heights, Minnesota police in their car at a traffic stop. And she kept continuously reporting from the aftermath of the scene. Apparently, the cops had stopped Castile’s car as it had a broken taillight. And they had asked him to bring out his ID and licence. Castile, Reynolds, states during the broadcast informed the police that he had a licensed firearm, but he was reaching in his pocket for his wallet to bring out his ID. The policeman, despite being informed of this, pumped four bullets into him, Reynolds says.

That video on Facebook has got more than 5.6 million views at the time of writing.

And it led to protests and rallies against police violence across the US of A the next day.

In Dallas, bullets rang out loud and clear during one of the rallies protesting police brutality. Six policemen were shot at by a sniper - Micah Xavier Johnson - from a building. Five of them died. Others were injured. Johnson who holed out against the policeman in a garage was later killed with the help of a robot and an explosive device.

The action on the streets, with the police scrambling around, was filmed by Michael Kevin Bautista and streamed live on Facebook. The video had been watched 5.6 million times once again at the time of writing. Michael got instant fame, getting onto CNN, BBC Radio, CBS, the Washington Post and TMZ apart from a host of other news outlets.

While a large chunk of TV viewers in the US have switched to OTT and VOD services, for their entertainment, cutting off their cable TV connections, most of them are still relying on TV channels for news. This is because TV broadcast helps make understanding news developments easier. But the fact is that news and its analysis is dependent on the slant that producers, reporters, owners – some with vested interests – give it.

Media observers say that the two developments mentioned above could be the fore bearers of the new age of un-curated, raw, reportage of developments - or news - as they happen on the ground during crime scenes, war, accidents, acts of violence or what have you. What would make this kind of reportage interesting is that it would be presented without any bias or agenda.

Imagine the scenario: lay Facebook users the world over whipping out their phones, filming incidents and reporting on them live. This could run into thousands and even hundreds of thousands. With viewers possibly running into millions as happened in the case of Reynolds and Bautista. The numbers could be higher too. Take Candace Payne who went live on Facebook, filming herself wearing a Chebacca mask and cackling away. The video has until the time of writing grossed 150 million views.

What could the emergence of tools such as Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope mean for Indian news TV? There’s disruption waiting to definitely happen with Indian news channels. Some amount of cynicism has crept in among those in the know about the way news is being presented by a majority of the news outlets. There’s always doubt on top of most viewers minds as most TV news channel promoters either have political or economic linkages or leaning.

The time could not be very far when Facebook Live could really start kicking in India. India is a mobile first nation with more than 250 million smart phone owners and around the same number surfing the net on their phones. Around 150 million young and old alike are always logged onto their Facebook accounts.

Give it a thought: if even 10 per cent of them tune into a development shot by a Facebooker and streamed live, the numbers would be more than the viewers than what the top TV news channels attract.

Clearly this is a phenomenon waiting to happen. Again and again. All it would require is a trigger or triggers. And a million news channels would suddenly pop up on Facebook. Giving out unadulterated, independent updates of developments.

In such a scenario a few questions need to be answered. Are not the regulations for broadcast news TV pretty rigid? Will the government seek to regulate and monitor the millions of Facebook live streams? Should it do so at all? Television news broadcast has a code of conduct, some of which is being followed. Could a new code of conduct be put in for Facebook Live news bearers? And will it be followed? How will that happen?

There are many other queries that could need an answer.

For that it’s over to the ministry of information and broadcasting. And if needed to the Telecom Regulatory of India.

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