Is Heavily Censoring War and Violence in the Media Really Doing Us Any Good ?
by white_a5 on April 2, 2015 - 9:18pm
In recent decades the portrayal of war violence in Western media has become more regulated and less anticipated by audiences. The use of certain graphic images or detailed content concerning war is for the most part highly censored due to underlying ethical issues, as well as potential consequences this kind of mass exposure could have on audiences. In contrast, other audiences that are exposed to non-Western media outlets such as Al-Jazeera “quite reasonably [expect] gore and dead bodies to be part of war coverage” (Friedersdorf, 2013). Knowing that “scholars agree that foreign media in general are more willing to show graphic images”, we are forced to question to what extent media coverage on war should be censored(Friedersdorf, 2013).
In Conor Friedersdorf’s article What's With the U.S. Media's Aversion to Graphic Images? , the author talks about how American media tends to “sanitize almost all death” and compares pro-life abortion activists’ methods of using the most graphic content possible to gain supporters, to America’s restraint to exposing images of war in fear of the public’s reaction. He further goes on to compare Western and foreign media, touches on media dilemmas during certain wars such as the Vietnam and Iraqi War, and finally looks at how revealing this kind of information could potentially affect audiences. The author argues that despite the fact the portrayal of violent images in the media “aren’t enough to stop killings”, it is enough to impact the public and subsequently provide a greater understanding of war and the news itself.
One main Western journalistic value is to consider limitations of harm; this means that journalists have to take into account whether the information gathered should be reported based on how it affects society. Negative consequences should be considered when releasing information, and the dilemma between how this could harm or benefit society should be the basis of journalists’ decision. The outcome is most important. Although journalists may be trying to protect their audiences by censoring themselves, there are many disadvantages to a having a mainly heavily censored corporate media system. The usual intent behind portraying violence in the media would either be to try and broadcast stories most effectively and precisely, and in other cases, to shock the audience into understanding the depths of war, which one could rarely interpret through the words of a reporter. Because of Western media’s fear of overexposure and harm to society, if all reporters and news outlets had decided to expose the public to these images of war and violence, the public would initially have a strong reaction and the “dissemination of graphic images would backfire” (Friedersdorf, 2013). The goal of showing people these images would be to intentionally shock them into a better understanding of the situation, and to cause the public to give importance to these often neglected topics. Contrary to foreign countries that do not have such a strongly censored media, “such photos might give rise to opposing responses” (Friedersdorf, 2013). This means that because of the Western media’s plethoric withholding of information and images, according to Friedersdorf, people’s responses would be heightened to the point where they would either “call for peace” see it as a “cry for revenge” or experience “bemused awareness” because of exposure to this kind of content. A recent example of a strong public reaction would be of violent photographs that surfaced from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. These images mainly depicted prison torture, as well as many other human rights violations committed by the United States forces. These images caused an extreme shock to the public, and sparked a national debate over prisoner abuse.
What seems to be the best solution for Western media is to gradually incorporate not-so-graphic war content into the news so that it does not cause such strong public reactions, but also not to take displaying violence so lightly. It has to be understood that this could potentially mean normalizing scenes of violence in the media. There are many possible issues with normalizing violence, doing this would eventually end up desensitizing the audience, “give the false impression that society is becoming more violent”, and would “provoke an emotional response” or ”distract from the history and context” of the image (Sarah Waurechen). Ultimately, the biggest issue associated to diffusing this content is that all of this information could largely contribute to the dehumanizing and mere objectification of people during war. Once journalists decide to publish the information they have gathered, this news, violent in nature, turns people in the images into “works of art, tossed out to be gobbled up by the world that did them in” (Theodor Adorno).
While taking both of these perspectives into account, the media’s choice to reveal certain information or not should solely depend on how it could potentially benefit society. In this case, the best solution would be to expose audiences to certain images when it is extremely important and valuable to delivering a story. If this is not done people will never truly be informed on what is happening. The use of words like casualties and collateral damage are extremely effective in attenuating information and ultimately ends up undermining the true importance and seriousness of stories being reported on. Certain information being distributed to the public is extremely essential in truly explaining what is happening, as well as giving weight and importance to different circumstances throughout world. According to Friedersdorf, it is to “varying degrees, [this] material [has] an impact on public thinking”. Without this violent content, reporters’ words, and even worse, euphemisms are not enough to explain the depth of what is going on. Nonetheless the use of violence within the media should not be taken lightly and if used only when it is a necessity, should remain most effective.
Friedersdorf, C. (2013, June 19). What's With the U.S. Media's Aversion to Graphic Images? Retrieved April 1, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/the-gutless-press/309405/
Waurechen, Sara. “News and Violent Imagery.” Marianopolis College. 4873 Avenue Westmount, QC. February 2015. Lecture.