As someone who works in television news, I wince every time my colleagues and I have to decide which images of graphic violence to allow on the screen and which ones to remove. In North America we have some clear sensibilities about the level of brutality we show on television. Our guiding principle is to give the viewer a clear description of tragedies in the news, but not to sensationalize them. We also try to consider the dignity of innocent victims of violence and of their families. We are particularly aware of the vulnerabilities of children who may be watching the news during the day.
This is not necessarily the case in other countries. Eric Calderwood, a Harvard student living in Syria, recently spent some time observing the coverage of the conflict in Gaza by the Al-Jazeera network. He calls Al-Jazeera's coverage "blood journalism" because of the level of violence shown on the screen. While the network's sense of editorial balance is distinctly different from those of North American media organizations, Calderwood finds some benefits to Al-Jazeera's depiction of the harsh realities of armed conflict.
The Boston Globe recently posted an essay on this topic by Calderwood. His ideas are worth considering.
It's also a reminder that, wherever we live, we should avoid watching television news passively; we need to keep our mental filters on and our faculties sharp. Deconstructing and analyzing media messages is vital to a better understanding of the forces that shape our world.
Calderwood's essay is entitled "The Violence Network" and you can read it here.
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