Livestreaming Protests

By Tim Hardy

Why Livestream?

When we protest, the media will generally either ignore us or misrepresent us. It is up to us to make our own voices heard.

Our own coverage is crucial in getting the truth across to a wider audience.

A live feed helps to connect a protest to the world and to build solidarity with other protests going on elsewhere. Quality is unlikely to be good enough to replace higher-quality video and photographs but while police can seize and destroy cameras to hide evidence, footage already broadcast online cannot easily be destroyed.

Don’t Become an Intelligence Gatherer

If you decide to stream, please show courtesy towards your fellow protesters. At a fluffy, family friendly, theatrical protest that is being staged mostly as a media stunt, filming people is generally fine but don’t film private conversations without permission or people who clearly wish to preserve their anonymity when they are putting on or removing a mask. If you are caught in more confrontational situation with a more aggressive police response, try to focus on the police, on legal observers and on fellow independent activist-journalists.

The UK police do not respect the independence of the press and will do their best to turn journalists into information gatherers, using court orders to seize footage. As a non-accredited, independent news gatherer, you have very little protection. With a live stream you need to think carefully about what you film because it is not possible to securely delete footage later. Once it has been broadcast, you can no longer control what happens to it any more than the police can.

Prepare for the worst

Be prepared for the possibility that you will be arrested and your equipment seized. We started sleepwalking into a police state under New Labour and it is getting worse. Charges will probably be dropped eventually but your phone may be held for months while a forensics team examines it.

As well as taking the usual precautions before a protest  you need to be aware of what data the police might find on your phone. Remember too that when you delete something, it is not completely deleted and might be possible to retrieve.

For this reason, if you can afford it, try to use a second phone to your main one when streaming, one that you use exclusively for protests. Think carefully about what you do with it and which numbers you add to your contacts book. This will also reduce the inconvenience of losing it for a while. Otherwise, just be sensible about what you do with your handset. People have been convicted in the UK for jokes about riots or blowing up airports. The state has no sense of humour.

Technical Notes from Block the Bridge

When livestreaming Block the Bridge, Block the Bill  last Sunday I used a Nokia E5-00 and a PowerMonkey portable external charger. This gave me enough power to broadcast for around 6 hours.

I opted for portability. For a more static protest where you have access to a power source, higher quality results might be achieved with a laptop and webcam.

One issue noted was that sound quality from a phone microphone is not very good. It points only in one direction and the sound correction software on the device that masks “background noise” when you are using the handset as a phone actively degrades what you are trying to record when you are broadcasting. Wind noise was also a problem at times. Speaking out loud to provide a commentary can help clarify what is going on for viewers.

3G/UMTS offers reasonable speeds at the cost of reduced image quality. If you can find an open wifi access point higher quality will be possible.

The service I used for streaming was Bambuser. I am very happy to recommend it. Comments from viewers are overlaid on the phone display as you are streaming along with a count of the numbers watching. Messages of support during our containment on Lambeth Bridge made a huge difference.

These notes are shared in the hope they might help others especially those who plan to livestream Occupy LSX / Occupy London this weekend. Good luck to you all. I can’t be with you, at least not for the whole thing, but I will be following and – I hope – watching.

One thought on “Livestreaming Protests

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