Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Arab media: Do not demean the protesters suffering | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I have lost count of the number of times that my television screen has been divided between two different images. One half of the screen would show some spokesperson, analyst, or some other individual who is fluent in the craft of public speaking, spouting distasteful discourse about the promised reforms of the regime, and denouncing the “killers” or “armed militia”. Whilst the other half of the screen would show images of security officers kicking demonstrators who are tied up and lying on the ground, or images of victims or images of refugees wailing and crying. In the case of the Al Jazeera news channel, we have even seen close-up images of the bodies of protesters who have been tortured and killed.

In the world of television, these images – accompanying the voice of guests and analysts – are called “floating pictures.” They are usually shown to ensure that the viewer does not get bored of listening to the guests’ comments, or to serve as a complimentary link to support the focus of discussion, or even to make an opposing point with these images perhaps contradicting the guest’s assurances and comments.

However is this television practice of showing floating images over the comments of guests and analysts correct?

Is it permissible to use images showing the body of [tortured Syrian boy] Hamza al-Khatib, or [Syrian protest singer] Ibrahim Qashoush, and others, to accompany the meaningless statements and comments made by some individuals?

The Arab revolutions took place in front of the television cameras. Beginning in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and expanding to include Syria and Yemen, we have seen images of cruelty and death on our television screen almost without interruption; however these images represent a moral question for the media. International news outlets have refrained from publishing the images of bloodshed and death that the Syrian protesters specifically want broadcast to the world. The western media is based on the strong belief that such violent images should not be broadcast on air, because of the damaging impact this could have on viewers.

As for the Arab media, the issue is even more complicated. It is Al Jazeera that has taken the most hardline position when it comes to broadcasting such images; this satellite television channel broadcasts images of the dead, images of torture, and rarely censors its content. Ever since such images were first shown, we have been haunted by the moral question: Is it permissible to broadcast such images?

Yet if we do not show such images, then how can we show the world the violence and cruelty that is taking place?

These are legitimate questions, but this does not detract from the fact that our news media has now fallen into impropriety. If we acknowledge the need to show such images and footage, then we must take all the details into account, such as the precise content of what is shown, and indeed when this is shown. We must warn the viewers that these “floating pictures” might be disturbing. We have shown a lot of disrespect for the precious souls who have suffered and died in front of us.

These images have meaning…they stand for the pain and suffering that the victims experienced, whether they were exposed to slaughter, torture, or even trampled underfoot, merely for taking to the streets and demanding freedom.

Those who were killed [and images of whom were later broadcast] cannot comment on this media practice, however those who have been tortured but lived to tell the tale might ask us: what have you done to my sacrifice?

In our case, the media would answer: we used the image of your sacrifice as a floating picture to underscore the worn-out and meaningless statements of the regime’s mouthpieces!