Christian Long

Peter Gabriel: Fights Injustice with Video

In TED Talks on May 9, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Peter Gabriel:  Fights Injustice with Video

A common phrase you often hear is “A picture paints a thousand words.” If that is the case, then Peter Gabriel is on a mission to write an entire book with his Witness program. From its beginning in 1992 the main focus of the organization is to expose human right violations throughout the world. Witness’ modern army is made up of dedicated individuals armed, with video cameras, fighting social injustices.

Peter, a musician, entered the fight as part of a group of celebrities touring for the human rights group, Amnesty International. As he stated, most of us are aware of people suffering, but it’s almost in a distant sort of focus because these people are unknown. It is not happening in our own comfort zone, so therefore we can minimize it and push it to the background. Peter, due to his involvement with Amnesty, was able to put a face to the problem. The more knowledge he gained, the more horrified he became in realizing that these people were innocent victims. Hearing their stories, it became evident that the world was only getting a small percentage of the actual abuses reported. He was more upset by the fact that most of the stories were being buried and the world remained ignorant of the truly deplorable conditions human beings were being forced to endure. Interesting, it seems that human right violations are not limited to what we would consider third world countries. They are equal opportunity offenders and can happen anywhere and anytime. Even supposedly civilized nations can be guilty of committing crimes against people and then burying those crimes within their own borders. This is what prompted Peter to start his own organization, Witness.

Witness’ main goal is expose human right violations wherever they occur. Their main weapon is the video recorder. It is much harder to cover up and bury the atrocities being committed once they are immortalized in video. Witness has a powerful ally in today’s innovative technology. Video cameras are much smaller, cell phones with video recorders, and instant uploads to the World Wide Web make the goal more attainable. It is very difficult to cover up and bury stories that are being streamed live and showing in real time the human rights violations as they happen (as demonstrated in the Uganda video and the Witness demonstration video). It was interesting to note that the Witness project did not have success initially in getting partners on board. It took the Rodney King incident to show how effectively video can relate a story from all perspectives. The global interest in that particular video showing the altercation between King and the LA police gave Witness the opportunity it needed. Was it the fact that the incident took place in the USA that made it more newsworthy? Maybe, but it opened the door for the evolution of the Witness program.

In Peter’s mind, human rights are as important to our overall survival as environmental issues. He sees both eroding over time and therefore both are in need of rescue. And once again, it will be social activists that will pick up the banner and rally the troops. These volunteers are dedicated individuals who put their lives at risk in the fight to uncover social injustice. Whether they are filming the incidents themselves or providing the tools to others it is at their own peril. There are many governments that will do whatever it takes to keep their dirty little secrets. And sometimes even the victims themselves, who like Peter, feeling ashamed and dirty after their ordeals would rather not speak out. Either way, Witness is attempting to build a net work growing stronger each day that Peter likens to a tree. One strong trunk serving as the foundation with hundreds of branches reaching out and covering more and more ground.

Then as the Witness video stated, “You can never say what you just say never happened.”


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