To show or not to show

As non-stop war footage is fed back to the UK, John Sparks is among those who decide what is fit to be seen on TV


When you watch the television news you can often see the newsrooms behind, where faceless individuals scurry around. It's a voyeuristic experience of limited value, but these figures seem an important part of the set as we focus on the intonations of the presenter.

When you watchthe television news you can often see the newsrooms behind, where faceless individuals scurry around. It's a voyeuristic experience of limited value, but these figures seem an important part of the set as we focus on the intonations of the presenter.

I am one of these anonymous bodies – the chief sub video, with a dark little corner of my own and a bank of television screens, above which I will sit throughout this war. I make decisions on what images you watch – and my job has never been so difficult.

Raw, unedited pictures are flowing into newsrooms in unprecedented quantities. Eight open-ended satellite lines feed war coverage from Iraq and the region into the UK around the clock, including the voice tracks and rushes (unedited pictures) provided by correspondents working for the main broadcasters. The picture agencies, Reuters and APTN contribute their own material, as do freelance journalists and cameramen. Then there is the on-air output of broadcasters such as Abu Dhabi, who have had the best camera points on the Baghdad skyline, and al-Jazeera, with its correspondents within Iraqi-held areas.

A significant amount of this material is unbroadcastable – mangled bodies by a flaming tank or badly burnt corpses in a smouldering bus. Above me on screen two, US marines fire off a rocket launcher in their attack on Baghdad Airport. "I don't know what happened," says a voice off-camera, "but we shot the shit out of it." On screen three, cameramen invited to film the worst casualties of the day in a Baghdad hospital show the badly burnt fact of a three-year-old. The effect is draining and sometimes sickening, and these images will reappear throughout the day.

Much of the footage rolling in is dull – soldiers stopping cars at a checkpoint, Iraqis buying tomatoes at a Baghdad vegetable stall, correspondents filing pieces to camera. But the sheer quantity of material and the plurality of views it offers is astonishing.

The fact that there is so much footage available reflects both the Pentagon's strategy of embedding journalists in front-line units and a profusion of new broadcasters – some of whom have their own correspondents embedded in Saddam-controlled Iraqi. Tensions between broadcasters and those who provide access are rising. But from my point of view, it is the Pentagon's relationship with the media that will grow uncomfortable. The coalition's press handlers are feeding an uncontrollable beast. If liberation turns into occupation and resistance, the media will be in an unparalleled position to ask awkward questions. The generals in Qatar will find if difficult to remove journalists when they get in the way – to do so would offend those Western values attached to press freedom.

Evidence of this potential problem abounds in the daily intake of rushes. This is one example, but there are countless others.

A CNN feed showed soldiers blasting Iraqi tanks, lorries and personnel carriers. As if in a clip from Jackass, one soldier launched a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank, and the missile missed the target, sailing into a house behind. The audio clearly picked up the soldiers' laughter as the home of an unknown number of civilians collapsed in a cloud of dust.

Pictures that speak of questionable tactics, bewildered or bored troops and disgruntled Iraqis allude to another sort of war that makes no appearance in the daily Qatar briefing. That these pictures now exist makes my job vital.

The best images of the day are used for the headlines at the top of the show. The presenter, producer and editor are also involved in selecting the shots and deciding on how we present them. It is often a difficult process. Viewers expect to be informed, but we must also protect them.

With so much material now available, the coalition's greatest vulnerability lies not on its flanks or in the suburbs of Baghdad. It's in the rushes. At the moment few are aware of it. But that will change if this war drags on.

John Sparks is, for the duration of the war, chief sub video for Channel 4 News

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?