World View: Television Should Show Us More Corpses from Iraq. the Sight of What Violence Can Do to the Human Body Is the Most Potent Anti-War Message Around

By Wrong, Michela | New Statesman (1996), April 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

World View: Television Should Show Us More Corpses from Iraq. the Sight of What Violence Can Do to the Human Body Is the Most Potent Anti-War Message Around


Wrong, Michela, New Statesman (1996)


That's it, I've had enough. I've been shouting in fury at my television set like a Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells. Frankly, I'm sickened and disgusted by the outrageous lack of graphic violence on our screens today.

As the siege of Fallujah and the duel between coalition forces and Moqtada al-Sadr's militiamen have dragged on, we've watched US choppers rattling across the sky, marines opening fire in an eerie green glow and panicking convoys of cars heading out. What we haven't seen are the bodies.

We are told that the civilian death toll in Fallujah alone has reached at least 800. Well, you could have fooled me. All I've seen are some sheet-swathed forms lined up outside a hospital, a few fresh graves, a pair of Iraqis carrying a blanket weighed down by something heavy and wet.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

What a strangely empty place the Iraq on our screens seems, with its deserted streets and vast explosions that leave no carcasses behind. Does anyone actually live there?

None of this is new. Think back to the television coverage of the war itself. How many dead bodies do you remember? A dozen, perhaps? Most of those were filmed from a distance or stayed on screen for no longer than a split second. Yet according to the global health organisation Medact, between 21,700 and 55,000 Iraqis died between March and October.

This prudish horror of death's physicality is a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon affliction. Anyone who has watched the news in France or Italy will know that viewers there are treated to a far higher level of gore. In those countries, wars look like wars. People bleed. You hear them scream. Here, broadcasters prefer their wars to look like computer games, all technological gimmickry and special effects. In this nerdy universe, we may well see the cause, but we rarely glimpse the effects.

Due out next month, a report by researchers at Cardiff University School of Journalism highlights the great irony of British television coverage in times of conflict.* Reporters "embedded" with the British or US troops invading Iraq initially fretted that the military would censor their reports. In the event, most censorship was carried out by the media themselves, convinced the public would be unable to stomach war's grim reality.

Why did the reporters and news editors do the military's work for it? "Taste and decency" was the mantra chanted by those interviewed in the report. But definitions of what is "acceptable" have shifted dramatically in the past ten years--for all, it seems, but newsmakers.

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