I want to focus primarily on the use of sensitive videos from Idlib, Syria this week following Tuesday’s chemical airstrikes. I have developed a strong opinion of the coverage of Syria this week, and I am really happy with one Boston Globe article in particular about this breaking news story.
In the hours after this tragedy, Middle Eastern and international news sources had journalistic boots on the ground. They blasted out horrifying video of naked children and babies dying in the streets, taking their last breathes, foaming at the mouth, and getting tossed into the back of emergency medical trucks like sandbags. Many of these videos were wired to newsrooms across our country. When I was at work, the videos came in, and I was floored. I had never seen uncensored video so bloody. Why had I never seen videos so bloody? I am a journalist. Totally disconcerting, on so many levels.
Many news organizations shy away from graphic images. They sometimes do this because of organization-wide rules to respect young/unprepared viewers. Also, they edit out graphic content to keep their content appropriate (especially depending on the time and place a story breaks).
There are some ethical/judgement questions to consider when a news organization gets graphic or sensitive images in for a breaking news story: mainly “How do you comprehensively convey the urgency or seriousness of a situation that is clearly extremely graphic WITHOUT showing your viewers/readers the whole truth?” You cant always show everything, of course, and there are limits. But can we really select or censor images for a story but still maintain the whole feeling of a story? I don’t feel confident that the answer is “yes”. With a story like this one, where many children suffered and died, wouldn’t it be doing the story (and the Syrian people) a disservice to not show the children?! How do you handle this!
The Globe handled this story very well in my opinion. The front page of the story is a baby receiving emergency medical service. The Globe’s Ty Burr wrote a piece speaking exactly to my point. He wrote:
“Look at the photos coming out of northwest Syria: adults and small children stricken by poison gas attacks, foam streaming from their mouths and noses. Babies with gas masks clamped to their faces. Dead toddlers stacked in the back of pickup trucks.
It’s exploitative. It’s necessary. It rips through our numbness. It causes us to become more numb.”
The article continued to this:
“You don’t want to know? These photographs say: Tough. You live in the world, and this is a consequence of what is happening in the world. Specifically, this is what President Bashar Assad of Syria is doing to the people of his country. Such images hit us where it hurts, in our entitled, comfortable social solar plexus. They stop us in our day and urge us to take action, any kind of action. They cut through the noise.
Here is the link to the full piece: https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2017/04/05/images-from-syria-too-awful-look-and-too-important-look-away/GvGqTzOICn7IaroJTFrNzN/story.html
I really applaud this piece. It cuts to the point of the necessity of showing graphic images in breaking news story when it makes sense to. In the case of this Syria chemical attack, the children ARE the story. To cut them out because it is inappropriate for viewership is in many ways disrespectful and not combative enough… even, not truthful enough.
If the point of journalism in war-zones is to make clear the hardships and realities of living in a war zone, censoring that information is not productive and in some ways shameful.
A few photos that should be circulating widely within the American news media:
And a video exists on this link that has some images but is still more subdued: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2017/04/04/suspected-syria-gas-attack-kills-dozens-including-children/4Gr5lvoPZuG13YnGMEvTHI/story.html?s_campaign=bostonglobe%3Asocialflow%3Atwitter
It’s important to be honest with people as journalists. Taking information away is a kind of censorship. Depending on the situation, it may be wrong. Especially, in the time we are living in now for American journalists, the more honest, the better.
Thank you for reading!