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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss