As a journalist who has for most part of his newspapering career so far worked on the desk, it has always been a challenge to decide what to drop, rather than what to take, in the case of visuals for every violent story reported. Right from a murder in a working class colony to terror attacks, and every sort of violent action that leaves a deep impression on any innocent and/or gullible mind, that’s a decision that would make or mar the lives of thousands the following day.
What amazes me after the Delhi blasts is even that granddad of Indian newspapers, one that tiptoes carefully and thinks really, really hard before splashing any news or visual, sometimes to the point of being criticised as boring (read non-tabloid like most Indian newspapers these days), The Hindu, has been criticised. The Hoot, an extremely competent site for media criticism, with articles mostly by working journalists, panned the paper for “crossing the line” on Thursday — the day after the blasts — “by carrying on page 1 a large, gruesome picture of the Delhi High Court blast which showed the gory remains of the victims. It violated the dignity of the dead. Even a tabloid like Mail Todaywas more restrained.”
I am not commenting here on purported sensibilities shown by the Mail Today editors, or holding fort for The Hindu.
While I completely agree that newspapers and news channels have to set their own rules on what to write and show, I also have this to say: please change with the times.
The days when these Press Commission or Editors Guild or whichever panel’s rules were laid down are long gone. At least one, if not two, fresh generations of readers and news consumers of news have come in between. These are generation(s) that have seen, heard, spoken about and discussed more about the “nasty, brutish and short”, as Thomas Hobbes had put it way back.
In fact, The Independent, UK, ran an investigative story on its front page about an Iraqi hotel worker “kicked and punched” to death by British troops stationed there. I quote from the report: “Baha Mousa, 26, a widower and father of two young children, died after enduring 93 separate injuries as a result of being kicked, punched and restrained by soldiers in Basra in September 2003.”
It’s a horrifying way to die, and each of the suspects should be brought to book and meted out punishment so exemplary that soldiers on peacekeeping or ‘liberating’ missions in other countries think twice before raising their hands against poor innocent people in ‘underdeveloped’ countries. It’s the rage that should speak out — and the story was amply supported by the picture of Baba Mousa’s face, enlarged to cover half the front page of the Berliner-sized newspaper (a size between broadsheet and tabloid).
I salute the editors of The Independent for using the visual to narrate their story; a story that needs to be told to every late-teen man or woman eager to join the Queen’s army — if only to deter them from being such animals who kicked and punched to death a helpless man.
I also remember a 2000 New York Times story forwarded by a journalist friend — she had found it on the Internet — that showed a youth being purportedly tortured by an Israeli soldier in Jerusalem. It was an Associated Press (AP) photo, showing blood all over the youth’s face and white T-shirt, and the Israeli soldier charging ahead with his baton.
It is another matter that it later emerged that the Israeli soldier had actually saved the boy from Palestinian abductors and was waving his batons at the latter to stay away. The youth, it emerged was an American Jewish citizen from Chicago. But the (presumably) unwarranted misinformation carried by AP photographer in the caption does not take away from the potency of the picture: life is nasty, brutish and often short in Arab-Israeli war zones.
I hunted the picture from Wikipedia.
Ditto with the blasts, I say.
Twenty or 25 years ago, blasts in urban centres were unheard of; these days we have one every 100 days or so. My seven-year-old nephew today can tell you more about terror attacks and how many bodies were flying around than I would have managed at even 17 in 1992, when the riots in Mumbai and other cities downed those barriers for the happily ensconced us, urbanites.
I am not making a moral judgment here; I am just saying readers/viewers are smarter, more knowledgeable today. So let us respect that. Even SpiderMan and Harry Potter films, meant for kids, sometimes show more violence than visuals in our daily newspapers.
Today we all know a terror attack is bloody carnage, so there’s little reason why we should play hide and seek with the images. Every blast is bloody, gruesome and leaves body parts flying here and there. For good or bad, people know that. So let’s not act 1960s parents and keep the blood and gore off the front pages or the TV screens.
If it’s bloody, it should bloody well be seen as bloody (pardon the swear word in between; I couldn’t help it). Not many youngsters anyway read newspapers these days, and I am afraid many more would stop subscribing to one after their parents pass away if we carry on with sweeping everything under the carpet the way we do now.
To every reader of Howzzit, I am not advocating dropping all guards and running every other blood and gore picture in newspapers or on TV. I am just saying let us drop the pretense of deaths taking place just like that in a shootout or blast or terror attack. People don’t just drop dead out of thin air in such incidents — they are killed and maimed by weapons or assembled bombs with a force that ought to leave us psychologically maimed.
Let’s show a bit of that shock so that our readers or viewers go numb for a split second and sit up and react.
Do we need machines who just read the news or watch it in the morning about terror attack, gulp down their toast with tea and get on with their work? Or human readers and viewers who are shocked, stumped, enraged, shattered, frustrated and decide to use a few expletives, and hopefully raise their voices?
It’s up to the senior editors, Press Council ladies, or Editors Guild gentlemen to take a call on that one.