The IDF and other legions on YouTube: Useful sources?


The Israel Defence Forces, which started its own YouTube channel on 29 December, is the most recent armed force to storm YouTube. But it isn’t the only military group representing itself on the ubiquitous video platform.

With its stab at social media, the IDF follows in the footsteps of British, Dutch and American militaries. These legions each reach thousands of YouTube subscribers, thus allowing military groups to present themselves to the public without a reporter filtering the information.
That seems to be just fine with journalists, who say these videos are no more valuable to them than other everyday source material, including individual blogs.

Joel Greenberg, Middle East correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, says he has used the IDF YouTube channel as one of numerous information sources.

“I’m speaking about the aerial photos of bombing in Gaza,” he e-mails from Israel, referencing videos like the one titled Israeli Air Force Strikes Rockets in Transit 28 Dec., 2008, which depict actual bombing.

“They illustrate some assertions the army is making, particularly their claims of secondary explosions that they say prove that there were weapons inside a mosque or other building they hit. But it is only one source among many that I am using, and I am not referring to it regularly.”

The IDF channel does have regular viewers, though. It has been the most subscribed to station on YouTube for two straight weeks. It has 12,794 subscribers and 896,873 channel views as of 6 January.

Military VJs

When it comes to militaries doing their own video journalism, the British are at the fore: The Royal Air Force established its own YouTube channel in 2006. So did the US Navy. The US Marines joined up in 2007, as did the British Army and the Dutch Marines. The US Air Force started its channel in 2008.

Coalition military forces have joined the online video game: The Multi-National Force – Iraq imagestarted a YouTube station in 2007.

But YouTube isn’t the only way to do video on the web: at, NATO posts videos about training exercises, its work in Afghanistan and Kosovo, press statements, roundtables and archives dating back to the inception of NATO in 1949.

The 26-country coalition has had a TV and Radio Unit, which operates a television studio and 10 radio studios at NATO headquarters in Brussels, for 25 years. But it started just six months ago. This online channel presently operates out of Denmark. But it will move to Brussels in June, 2009, said Jean-Marc Lorgnier of the TV and Radio Unit.

“It will be the future support for information to deliver a message to the young people,” Lorgnier says.

Good for reporters?

Indeed, online videos do facilitate the widespread dissemination of branded messages – just like press releases.

That’s how some reporters and editors see these video channels.

“You don’t know if it’s propaganda or who is directing it,” says Titia Ketelaar, deputy editor for nrc•next, a Dutch morning paper. “So we treat it as such, with the same sceptical outlook we use for any press release we get.”

Ketelaar says NRC, which also publishes an evening paper, has its own correspondent based in Israel.

“He knows the situation and gets his own information, has his own contacts,” she says. “Like every reporter here, myself included, we’ve got our own blogs you check every morning to see what they’re doing. You look at YouTube and see if there’s something new. … But our reporters do their own interviews and rely on that information.”
Victor Kasparov, a producer for the international planning desk at the 24-hour English language television station Russia Today, says his correspondents operate in the same way. Russia Today also bases its Middle East correspondent, Paula Slier, in Israel.

“We have a reporter in Israel and we don’t really need to monitor lots of blogs,” he says. “Paula takes care of that. … She’s a reporter and she’s local. It’s much easier for her to get information.

But it is useful when we make coverage of events in countries where we don’t have a reporter.”


Kasparov’s comment raises important questions: In times when reporters are not allowed into an area, will branded YouTube channels be accepted by society as legitimate news portals? It is necessary to point out that YouTube makes clear it has the right to delete any content hosted on its site. To what extent should YouTube channel subscribers take this rule into account?

Furthermore, the IDF is not allowing foreign reporters into the Gaza Strip. So will news stations without on-the-ground access instead air footage provided by military channels? And if so, how can the news stations balance their coverage?

Kasparov said his station, which distributes its videos online via a YouTube channel in addition to its own website, also has Arabic language partners with studios in Gaza. So there is little need for footage from say, the IDF YouTube channel.

He does find the footage interesting, he says.

“One thing though, the quality is not really cool. I don’t think we could use it on air.”

Back in the Netherlands, Ketelaar adds that NRC is including in its coverage of the invasion of Gaza quotes from and links to individual bloggers’ pages. That way, she says, the paper can show multiple perspectives.

For that reason, of course, blogs have been a particularly popular information source for newsgathering outlets trying to cover Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Good reads

For a particularly good overview of bloggers writing from the area, visit Global Voices’ section on the Middle East and North Africa. Every day Global Voices editors monitor and translate blogs written in various languages from various points of view, making the site one of the best places to explore when searching for authentic blog sites.

On 2 January the section featured this article about a blog jointly written by one Israeli and one Palestinian man.

—-Flickr image from users b., Weinaiko and Stompy