Thursday, June 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | BBC delay on sensitive live news

It should be more than evident by now that I'm a firm believer in the Freedom of Information and Speech and that whatever restrictions that are to be placed must be to prevent a DEMONSTRATABLE harm (physical and psychological, morality/societal mores takes a queue number) e.g. shouting fire in a crowded theatre, or inflamatory speech when the people are armed and ready to use them.

As such, I believe that it is justifiable not to broadcast Osama bin Laden speeches just as it is right not to publish pictures of terrorist activities (particularly bombings and beheadings) on the basis that these are the fuel for further acts of terror and help to propergate a culture of fear and terror within your populace. By all means, educate and them them knowledgably wary but don't terrify them. I think the distinction to be drawn is a matter of impact, reading about a beheading or a bombing is nowhere as intense as actually seeing footage or viewing a gory picture. On print, bin Landen's words become diminished (not least because not all of his supporters can read or get access to papers).

Having said which, does this extend to what the BBC is proposing i.e. during 'live' telecast of event, there will be a time delay between filming and broadcasting it over the air. Granting that even with the miracles of modern technology, there always will nevertheless be a timelag (most memorably during World Cup session), nevertheless, this will be a deliberate human created lag for the purposes to determining whether what is to be shown is appropriate i.e. not too 'graphic' for viewers.

We don't watch live telecast of anything expecting a massacre or something horrid to occur but I think that if you watch a situation where violence could break out, surely one cannot be so naive as to pretend to be horrified when it actually does. Besides, there's always the option of hitting the power button or switching to another channel.

Now, I can sympathise with the graphic part, even considering that I have a pretty decent stomach for gore. Beslan, to put it mildly, went to hell in a handcart when and where Russian security and military forces seemed to lack a due and proper consideration for something called collateral damage (innocent civilian lives) started 'rescuing' the hostages (and killing the terrorist in the process). This is not the first time, it seems to be a policy in the rebel provinces, it happened a scant year prior to the Beslan incident during the theatre massacre (which despite voraious opposition and testimony by the rescued became strangely silent).

Hence in this (particular) fashion, live television (uncensored and unedited) acts as a bulwark to what might have been even more heavy handedness. People need to know what is being done in their names. A policy that would artificially sanitise what is happened would distort the reality on the ground. Well intentioned it may be, the possibility and openness for abuse is nothing short of staggering. Likelihood is that a majority of people won't care and won't be aware of such a situation. With such a scenario, we do them a disservice by abusing their trust in a system and organisation they should trust. On the other hand, you're not going to win the skeptics and cynics over and might just push more people over the edge in distrusting an industry that has sunk into a quagmire of conflicting interests and a credibility gap.

So either way, you can't really win.

Theoratically, terrorist could prepetrate their attrocities in the knowledge that a major event would be covered 'live' and broadcasted all around the world via the major news networks in it's unmitigated horror. And in which case IF major news networks were to persue a policy that would censor most of this horror, then it diminish their capacity to spread their form of terror. I personally have my doubts because it seems to grant a rationality to most terrorist that might be absent at times. More accurately, these attrocities will be perpetuated anyway whether or not you broadcast or censor them.

But furthermore, it's worth noting a particular quote from the BBC which states that the new policy would reflect a change which emphasises 'accuracy over speed'. The really is begging of the question of how filming and showing something live over the air is not accurate. I think the problem has more to do with the personal idiosyncracies and prejudices of the reporter and cameraperson who might choose to focus on one aspect over another (say a pro-Saddam v pro-US 'live' telecast when the US troops rolled into Bagdad).

In which case, wouldn't the better policy be to address the root cause of the issue (journalistic professionalism) rather than attempt to lord over them and impose central control of what is permissible or not. After all, it takes away the personal responsibility and autonomy of the individuals on the ground (who have the best feel of what's happening) with editors sitting elsewhere who might not have the entire picture (or they possibly might and be more neutral) and who might be suceptible to political expidency and pressure (always a dangerous possibility).

At the end of the day, this really is a very very debatable policy that would ultimately rest, not on emphiracal fact but principle.



At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the public telecast, in Serbia, of a video that showed the execution of six Muslim youths in Srebenica.

In the story I saw on telly, one mother recounted her horror at seeing her son's execution broadcast on the news. Should Serbia's TV networks, then, have chosen not to show it, as one of them, B-92, has done?

Somewhat related is this recent story from SBS -- "Sledgehammer Politics".


At 5:47 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

As far as I can remember (this was in the aftermath of a football stadium tragedy), the public broadcasters code when broadcasting a disaster was not to show recognisable faces.

I will admit that it's kinda of a weird policy because it is not one that can really be imposed from the top, which mitigates the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of any policy proposed. So if BBC chooses not to do so, there are always Cable Channels who might.

But personally, I wonder where the value of showing such material lies.


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