Thursday, August 03, 2006

The obscenity of war

This heart-rending front page photograph ran in "Gulf News" on Monday and has caused much debate, with opinions very much divided.



There was a particular letter complaining about it, with what I thought was a brilliant reply from the Photo Director:

How can the image of a dead child help?

Your newspaper was not allowed into my house on Monday morning. I had it thrown straight into the bin. It is distressing enough to read of the deaths of innocent children in times of war and conflict but completely unnecessary to show that image on the front page.
What happened to the classic photojournalism of war-torn countries which has won awards over the years for its clear message without having to resort to graphic and brutal pictures of burning bodies and crushed limbs?
We live in times when violence is so commonplace on TV to the point where no one takes any notice of real conflict and pain. How can the image of that dead child change what is happening in Lebanon? It appears to me the real reason this photograph has been published is to increase the sales of the paper.
When we live in a country where many things are taboo, surely sickening visuals of this nature should be sensitively handled and kept out of the press altogether.
How do you explain this photo to a child who sees it in the home? How does he understand that this is different from the game he then goes off to play on his Playstation or the internet?
From Ms S. Backhouse, Dubai

Our Photo Director replies:

Photojournalists covering the war in Lebanon have provided arguably the most harrowing images of death and destruction in recent times. They risk their lives to document the war crimes being perpetrated against defenceless women and children. We as a newspaper recording history are obliged to show the truth of what is happening and at times the truth is painful.

You contend that classic photojournalism images that have won awards do not depict the brutal imagery which has appeared in Gulf News and most Arab newspapers of late. I beg to differ on this issue as the greatest award-winning images have more often than not been violent. The napalmed children running through the streets in Vietnam, charred soldiers in a tank in Iraq, the pilot's body being dragged through Mogadishu streets, the Vietcong being shot in the head at close range, the man being beaten while being burnt alive during apartheid in South Africa, the starving child being watched by a vulture in Sudan, the killing fields of Cambodia, starving children in Ethiopia, the hacked bodies during the genocide in Rwanda, Bhopal gas explosion horror one can go on and on.

Great news pictures conjure up great horrors, great sorrow and inevitably are immensely brutal.

The child being hoisted from the rubble in Lebanon will go down as a great image of this war for its sure message: the war has killed and is killing the innocents. These images which are being widely used in the Arab media are being generally ignored by the western media. The result is outrage in this region and amazing apathy in the western world. Censorship of these images, the truth, only serves the perpetrators of violence and allows their crimes against humanity to carry on unchecked.It is our duty as a serious newspaper to expose this.

We live in the Playstation age where children and adults alike are desensitised by the carnage on their television sets because apparent "death" is so common and "resurrection" is a mere press of the button away. In real war there is no second chance or "restart" button and perhaps parents should be duty bound to explain the difference between "real" death and "cyber" death.

By throwing Gulf News in the bin you may have lost a great opportunity to teach your children about the reality of life and how different it is from Playstation's artificial life.

You ask: How can the image of that dead child change what is happening in Lebanon? Time will tell what impact it has but for sure there will be and already has been an impact on the minds of those who saw it.


Reading not only Australian newspapers but also those from the US, the UK, I see sanitised photos of the destruction. Buildings collapsed, people in hospital with a bandaged arm, crying women, but rarely a graphic photograph showing the true horror, the reality of what's happening.

Hiding the truth, sanitising the effects of barbarity will only help it to continue. People need to face up to the reality of what happens in war. To people on all sides of all wars. That's the only hope we have of ever stopping it.

By the way, the little boy shouldn't stay nameless. Abbas Mahmoud Hashem. Just one more innocent victim.

1 comment:

Miss Mimsy said...

I cannot believe the audacity of this parent. She is only thinking as a parent, and not as a member of the global village we live in. How about the children who live in Iraq, Palestine, and now Syria? Are their lives cheap? I applaud your post, and the response by Gulf News. This woman is, perhaps, another example of the selfish individuals that exist on this Earth. Unfortunately, she is a mother, and this apathy is what her children may inherit from her. This world is what it is because of mothers who forget to teach their children values.