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     Volume 4 Issue 18 | October 22, 2004 |

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How Gory Do We Need to Get?

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

The severely graphic pictures in an advertisement published in a leading Bangla daily last week were highly disturbing and in extremely bad taste, to say the least. Issued by Awami League, it portrayed the years of failure, i.e., the crimes committed during the last three years of BNP rule.

This is nothing new. From public meetings to political statements, it is usual for all our parties to highlight -- more than their own achievements -- the failures of their opponents. They can be general, specific, or even personal. But to do this through the publication of horrifying pictures, and in a newspaper at that, seems beyond all limits of decency. The people feel the brunt of the government's failure (whichever government may be in power) through their own sufferings as well as through revelations in the media. They need not be hammered into their heads in gruesome, graphic detail. And while such ads may serve the purpose of the party to an extent, neutral readers may, ironically, be disgusted enough to turn against both the party and the paper.

In international media training, journalists are taught to weigh the odds of showing graphic pictures in the media. There is always the question of just how much the audience really needs to see to get the message. During war, famine, or any other unfortunate social situation, there are countless photographs and video shots taken that are never shown to the public. Simply, because they need not be. In newspapers or on television, revealing the facts, through both words and pictures, is enough. The taking of a life is brutal enough in itself, without depicting in grisly detail exactly what happened. The message usually gets through. A person shot dead is a person shot dead -- even without the image of the bullet piercing through his chest with blood spurting out.

And as much power as the pen or the word may have, photographs and visuals have a much stronger impact on the human mind. Granted, the job of the media is to tell the truth, to show what happened, but the limits of decency should also apply. There is little justification for publishing an advertisement containing twenty-odd pictures of brutal crimes that took place days, months and even years ago. Remnants of brains lying around on a blood-stained street after a bomb attack, bodies cut up into several pieces, along with almost equally descriptive captions, need not and should not be shown -- especially to those who should probably not see them.

But a solus on the back page of a national daily is accessible to children and the elderly alike, not to mention any normal person with a natural aversion to blood and gore. We get our daily dose of gore from newspapers and television anyway -- at the expense of becoming desensitised, many argue. When something affects us even worse than usual, more than making a point, it ends up causing non-clinical insomnia, leaving a dark scar in the mind and a sickening bitterness in the throat for days.

We expect little from our political leaders anymore, though there is always the last hesitant flicker of hope in our hearts that perhaps one in a hundred times they will prove us wrong and surprise us by saying or doing something right. The only surprise is that it is actually possible for them to fall lower in our esteem.

But from the media at least, we expect a minimal level of decency. The job of the media is "to sell and tell", we're taught in journalism class. While the emphasis put on selling over telling is sad but often true, we can at least try and refrain from being completely sold out.




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