We are not accustomed to watching the trial of politicians and leaders on our television screens for prolonged periods of time. In fact, in our part of the world, we are not even used to the existence of such trials.
This is why the trial of Saddam Hussein seems a unique and important event. It is also necessary, not for the sake of revenge, but in order to achieve justice and reconfigure our memory according to real facts. This will do justice to the Iraqis who were tortured for decades under Baath rule and Saddam’s dictatorship.
Moving away from politics, how are we to assess the repeated and lengthy coverage of the trial in local and satellite channels? It appears as if the trial will become a television series that will last for months before it reaches its conclusion.
With ten sessions already held, it is now possible to discuss the general features of this unprecedented event in the region. Setting aside Saddam’s theatrical defense, his piercing looks and his head’s movements as he listens to the testimony of witnesses, and aside from his entrance into the court room, holding a copy of the Quran in his hands, and his insistence on praying before the cameras and the outburst of Barzan al Tikriti, the proceedings were, for the most part, visually monotonous. Despite the event’s importance, so far, the broadcast has appeared close to ordinary.
Repeated sound cuts, technical difficulties and the sometimes unclear testimonies of witnesses and the defense team, might be seen as details too lofty to be considered. Nevertheless, they contributed to creating a rather boring picture of the courtroom and its proceedings. It was difficult to understand the testimony of witnesses from behind the curtain, after their voices were distorted for their own safety. Those who testified in public spoke from a distant angle, making it difficult for the viewers to distinguish their expressions. Empathy with the victims of torture and persecution is a necessary ingredient when listening to or watching the news. In this case, it was missing.
As much as live television broadcasts uncover facts and details, they also generalize and trivialize the underlying issue.
Should our television screens cover important events in all their details?
I do not claim to know the answer. I believe that television broadcasts have become an integral part of our lives. This undoubtedly ensures transparency and helps prevent falsification. However, doesn’t this coverage, especially in its lengthy form, make light of the event in question? Doesn’t the length of the broadcast contribute to weakening facts, therefore depriving the viewers of the ability to fully grasp the tragedy that befell Iraq, by transforming it into a slow and fragmented story, eventually reducing its catastrophic depth?