I can't face another war report about dead children
Who's avoiding their responsibilities: me or broadcasters?
Tuesday April 8, 2003
This is a deeply shameful admission, but I have almost no idea how the war in Iraq is going. I don't read about it in the newspapers. I channel-hop with the TV remote to avoid seeing any footage. I can cope with the radio a little. In the car I switch on for long enough to catch a news bulletin ... Please God, the war is over ... It's not. I put on some music.
I take no pride in this. In fact, I hate myself for it and fully accept that by owning up to it I will probably make other people hate me, too. A grown woman wallowing in a sea of denial is not a pretty sight but the more I try to drag myself out of it, the worse it gets.
I find the anti-war rhetoric every bit as upsetting as the Boys Own stuff - even more so if it is juxtaposed with images of returning coffins draped in the Union flag. I think about what the wives and mothers of those young boys must be feeling if people say their deaths were pointless and get even more distressed. So I can't even describe myself as anti-war. I can't describe myself as anything.
The other day I sat myself down with all the newspapers spread out in front of me, determined to read myself through the barrier of guilt and powerlessness so that I could at least form some sort of articulate opinion. But the first thing I saw was a picture of an Iraqi baby, dead, half-covered by a shroud. I don't know how that baby died but I do know, believe me, that I should. And I am also conscious that many babies die and have died because people like me don't know enough about what is going on in the world.
It is, I have always believed, an abdication of the responsibilities that go with being human to be wilfully ignorant of what is being done in your name. So, yes, I'm guilty. But when did it become OK to fill page after page of every newspaper with these most dreadful of images? Pictures of murder and mutilation not just of soldiers (although that's bad enough) but of civilians and little children. I wonder what is the real effect of such violent, even obscene imagery. Undoubtedly, there have been photographs in the past that have changed public opinion and subsequently world events. The Vietnam war picture of the napalmed child running towards the camera was certainly the most extreme example. And in the picture library of my mind, I would add the images revealed before the last conflict in the Gulf, of Kurdish children looking as if they were playing "sleeping lions" but who were actually victims of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons tests.
The number and nature of the visual images and graphic descriptions from this conflict seems to far exceed any previously seen, yet we arguably know less rather than more as a result. I know I do. If I try to analyse my own extreme reaction to the news coverage it's a form of panic attack brought on by helplessness." It's dreadful ... I can't change it ... I won't think about it." But I have seen in colleagues who work in hard news that immersing yourself in horror and sharing it is often simply the flipside of my reaction. It is a way of managing their own fears.
For many years I was married to a journalist who repeatedly put himself in the most extreme and dangerous situations, often winning awards for his reports. He was, incidentally, a very brave man, but I never felt his reports from behind the enemy lines were about bravery - rather they were about feeling so overwhelmed with helplessness as to need to engage as fully as possible with the source of his fears. I once saw him run towards, rather than away, from the sound of a bomb going off - and that was a spontaneous reaction, not a thought-out one.
I suspect that our current news coverage - certainly our visual news coverage - is being determined by people like him who can only cope with the horrors by immersing themselves in them and then relaying them in the most shocking way. It's a very polarising form of news presentation and I don't think one that can make an automatic claim to the moral high ground.
News has to be about communication and if people turn off mentally because the presentation is so shocking, then it could be argued it's not really news at all. Of course, I could be in a minority of one over this. But if I'm not, then the news media are failing us.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
The WorldPeace Banner
Show your desire for Peace and WorldPeace by wearing something
endorsing WorldPeace. Make your own pin or badge but remember, WorldPeace
is one word. Send me your WorldPeace pin designs and I will display
To the WorldPeace Peace Page