Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News Channels Should Continue Broadcasting Violent Images And Videos

One thing that irks me considerably is self-censorship by media organizations. At the best of times, I find this practice -- usually motivated by a desire to not offend, respect some sensibilities, or not broom up trouble -- silly and counterproductive. But it is in the case of gruesome violence where it assumes actual socio-political importance.

Consider this blog post on Dawn, which argues for not showing the images of people who've died, and other gory scenes of violence:
The common practice of providing live coverage of funerals and showing the face of the dead person on air, broadcasting bullet-riddled and blood-stained bodies of suspected terrorists, zooming in on the identifiable faces of rape victims, and incessantly screening the scattering of body parts after suicide blasts needs to stop. Every independent media outlet now has a website on which to post the images/videos that might require viewer discretion. More innovative ways of offering viewers the choice of how much blood and gore they consume can also be devised.

My argument would be: self-censorship can be incredibly damaging, and, theoretically anyway, can lead to more conflict and violence. Consider:

In almost every culture, violence for a worthy cause is respected and lionized. Whether its because of religion or country or whatever, it's always considered desirable to fight and die if the end or goal is just. The point is, violence is glorified and idealized to the point where it is thought of only in abstract terms; as a concept more than anything else.

But what uncensored images and videos of violence on television do is show you that concept in action. It demonstrates very vividly and powerfully that there is a real cost to living up to these ideals. Suicide bombing may sound cool in theory to a Baitullah Mehsud disciple, but might he think differently once he is shown a picture of someone who actually blew himself up? Maybe, maybe not, but there's definitely a chance, isn't there? Or what about the mob? Mafia movies (and The Sopranos series, no doubt) almost always depict gangs in a favorable or sympathetic light, and make the mob seem almost heroic. But if you actually see, unadulterated and unfiltered, what they do, you are less likely to be sympathetic.

News organizations have a responsibility to show the world as it is. If you are offended -- as I was by the Taliban beating the girl video, or the Pakistani army soldiers kicking and beating civilians video -- then you can simply turn away (as I did in both those instances). But to deprive the world of seeing what violence actually looks like simply because some are more queasy than others is deeply damaging, and risks the "coolization" of violence and murder.


Rabia said...

This is something I feel really strongly about. I find the policy of not showing Taliban/Al-Qaeda violence (and it's not just a Pakistani media policy, but western media as well) to be a terrible deference to political correctness at the expense of truth.

If you've noticed, major turning points in public opinion have generally occured due to media coverage of acts of violence (the swat flogging incident, gojra killings, gujarat riots). I would say that media coverage of violence is quite possibly the only things that has the power to shock people into rethinking long-held, comfortable opinions about religious extremism. It forces people to confront contradictions between their own intolerant views and the logical extension of those views into violent practice.

Raza said...

Stop not venting about Younis Khan.

Bad Credit Motorcycle Loans said...

You have raised a very serious issue. I like the way you have defended your point, especially the example of Baitullah Mehsud. I think we all need to think over this issue and can get better results out of media footage and videos.

Annie said...

Talking specifically about Pakistan, where couch-potatoeing is more of a familial activity, viewer discretion becomes an issue. Also we dont have parental control services.

Having said that, I agree with you. Censorship, has some pros but the cons are almost always greater, especially in this case.

Kannan said...

Abt Sopranos...All I got from it and ..am sure the message was that criminal life is so fucked up..they are always tensed even though their pockets are stacked up with bundles of cash..lost their friends one by one..have to kill their own band of brothers(Pussy etc)..hollowness of so-called-honor-in-the-gang..family dysfunction..reflections on their activities on their children..for all the women they seems to get..still they become more and more depressed..I mean all the criminal characters in Sopranos are shown absolutely unhappy and guilt-ridden for what they do..subconsciously(though they live in denial)..which show-up in other behavioral problems..

I thought it was beautiful and a real deterrent for those who fancy gore & violence..unless people see it just for all the bludgeoning and graphic murder parts in it.

pishipotty said...

I completely agree with you on this.

Awareness of such issues in this manner brings about action like nothing else.

Anonymous said...

as long as they also show the images of pakistani and afghani children dismembered by american and pakistani air raids/shelling/bombing - i have no problem.

Ribosome said...

@Anon_9_42: Fuck you

Asfandyar said...

I'm not so sold on this to be honest.

After the Marriott bombing this year when Geo pretty much ran amok showing whatever disgusting footage they could find, I felt the public would've been better served with less graphic imagery. Especially if you had family in Mariott at that time and all.

Ofcourse, if you keep showing violent footage regularly you're bound to end up numbing the public to gore and extreme violence. What happens then? And do you think it would've made much difference to the public if instead of a girl being whipped, it was a teenage guy? Because footage of that wouldn't have gotten people of their asses.

Butters said...

I don't think violence of this sort should be shown on the news. It is extremely distasteful and can even be traumatizing.

Suicide bombers being shown pictures of blown-up body-parts is all good, but I see no reason why the huge number of non-suicide bombers should have to have their psychological integrity violated for that reason.

Why not have a campaign of showing such images to boys in suspicious madrassas instead?

Violence is depicted in a civilized way in Western news outlets, in a way that still lets people know that violence exists and is happening: I don't see why the same shouldn't happen here. Why not just show wreckage, burnt up buildings, and some violence (such as flogging or beating) to show the 'reality'? Why cross lines of basic decency by showing severed body-parts and decapitated heads, and the faces of dead people with their eyes wide open?

It is desensitizing, voyeuristic, rude and harmful.

dudelove said...

kubrick played with this theme in 'a clockwork orange'. desensitization and mental trauma are the key words.

Anonymous said...

umm ....so what you are saying is that if someone god forbid raped your sister you would have no problem having her face shown in Geo or any other news channel(never mind the psycological burden on the poor person and his or her family but yes the face must be shown everywhere right).i am with you on the taliban issue but self censorship is required and essnetial.

gollu said...

I can see your point as to that violence shown on media would discourage people from becoming supporters of taliban/al-qaeda. But what if the media started showing unadulterated footage of military action against Taliban in waziristan? Though the war is warranted and just, the footage would be equally disturbing as that of suicide blasts.

Sarah said...

I'm afraid i agree with Asfandyar on this. I, myself have sadly become the victim of becoming desensitized by the horrific images of death and destruction on television. I have stopped watching Geo altogether.

Omar R Quraishi said...

ahsan -- did you write this? i am assuming you did -- well i am no longer at the news, or would have asked you to write for the news -- however, i am now editorial pages editor with the express group which is taking out an english paper early next year -- was wondering if you would be interested in writing a column for us -- do let me know -- for now email me at omarrquraishi@gmail.com