Document Type : Original Article


Professor of Film and Media Studies at Yale University, john.peters@yale.edu


Introduction: In this article, I first elaborate the significance of witnessing as a good analytical tool for studying media events.  I will then proceed with this idea that audience can be the witness in media, of media or via media.  Essentially, the media claim that they provide testimony for our inspection, thus making us witnesses of the way of the world. I would then plan to investigate the complex concept of witnessing in order to illuminate basic problems in media studies. 
Theoretically, I shed some light on the ideas of John Ellis who believes that witnessing is a distance mode of perception.  Ellis considers audiovisual media as major agents of catching events in a more detailed manner than people’s mind.  However, for Ellis Television is special among other media since through TV witnessing has become a domestic act. However, I go along with h Ellis’s logic. Ellis claims that witnessing is a key term in media analysis and it is freer of ontological burden. Nevertheless, I believe the baggage of witnessing is not ontological but it is at least historical. This burden has three main interrelated sources: law, theology, and atrocity.
Methodologically, I then proceed with analyzing the witnessing term itself. As a noun, the term involves all three points of a basic communication triangle.  As a verb, it has a double aspect: the passive one of seeing and the active one of saying. In the next step, I will refer to the history of the unreliability of witnesses. My argument relies on the question of how witnesses have been put into different tests and experiments during the time to improve their reliability. I will then go back to ancient times when torturing and using body was a routine way in authorizing the witnesses and confessions. Since the body and pain were used excessively during history as tools for witnessing, the witness has become a literary genre after the Second World War. I will then point to another group who reacts differently to the fallibility of witnesses. They try to secure the validity of statements by raising trust among the members of a society. This group started their work in the Enlightenment Era, and to me, they paved the way for the early stages for the rise of modern science; because without trust, the scientists could never believe each other’s’ observations and this became the way the development of science took place.
Some of the findings: This paper also shows that the fact that the legal system prefers dumb witness lies within the origin of both scientific and journalistic ideas of objectivity. The paper claims that since distance is a ground of distrust and doubt, the communication situation of broadcasting is similar to that of witnessing: experiences are mediated to an audience, which has no first-hand acquaintance with them. My argument is that the veracity gap in mass communication is completely reasonable due to the hermeneutics of suspicion presented by critical theory. While media events studies seek the conditions, in which the willing suspension of disbelief is justified. Through this notion, the paper’s argument enters the realm of live broadcasting and its importance as it does not lose the present sense of an event and it can enrich this sense of the audience that “I was there!” The contrast between the life and the recorder is a structuring principle of broadcasting. It replays the contrast of fact and fiction. The paper presents four basic types of relations to an event in Table 1 as the following: Presence in time and space (being there), presence in space but absence in time (historicity), presence in time but absence in space (live transmission), and absence both in time and space (recording). Finally, he elaborates on the slim boundaries of fact and fiction. I then propose that facts impose moral and political obligations that fictions do not. In fact, pain separates facts from fictions, as we somehow feel responsible for hurt people in news but not in fiction. Facts are witnessed, fictions are narrated.


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