Do we really need to see all this horror?

Wars, serial killings, cannibalism and torture are set before us from breakfast to bedtime, and are available all night too
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The Independent Online

The paradox of living in a so-called "information age" is that, like everything that can enrich our lives, you can also be fed too much of the stuff - with disastrous and damaging results. Years ago I made a programme attacking the internet for Channel Four - and it caused a huge stink. Even Time magazine took up the defence of our right to be bombarded with half-truths, inaccurate facts and dim-witted twaddle via e-mail. Now I can see the usefulness and benefits brought by the technology, but I still hold my view that it lays in front of us stuff that a lot of the time we would frankly be better off without.

The paradox of living in a so-called "information age" is that, like everything that can enrich our lives, you can also be fed too much of the stuff - with disastrous and damaging results. Years ago I made a programme attacking the internet for Channel Four - and it caused a huge stink. Even Time magazine took up the defence of our right to be bombarded with half-truths, inaccurate facts and dim-witted twaddle via e-mail. Now I can see the usefulness and benefits brought by the technology, but I still hold my view that it lays in front of us stuff that a lot of the time we would frankly be better off without.

There is a desperate need within the media to reveal "all" the facts of any situation, in case we are somehow in any doubt about the horror of a particular set of circumstances. These days wars, serial killings, cannibalism and torture are set before us from breakfast to bedtime, splashed across the front pages of the press, repeated every 15 minutes on 24-hour news channels and available all night long via websites, should we desire to gorge ourselves further.

Yesterday marked yet another milestone down the road of "information" - the publication around the world of photographs of a man about to be decapitated. And if you wanted to see it happen, all you had to do was tune into a website to see it played over and over again, just like a video on MTV. Like the murder of Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg's death was designed as blatant propaganda - and we, from television producers to journalists, took up the challenge and ran with it - all in the name of information.

The war on terrorism has descended into a litany of revelations about the systematic degradation of prisoners, as we are told President Bush has been shown further photographs and videos of abuses, including rape and desecration of corpses, inflicted by his troops and must decide whether to release them to the world's media before they surface on the internet.

Well, speaking as a journalist, I have had enough. Publishing these pictures only plays into the hands of the people who made them on both sides. It adds immeasurably to the pain and suffering of the dead man's family and provides the bigots on all sides with even more ammunition. When terrorists within the Arab world see our reaction to this imagery, and the prominence we have given it, they must be delighted.

The pictures of an American female soldier holding a leash attached to a naked male prisoner were obscene and disgusting - but showing me the image did not add anything more to my revulsion on hearing the facts in the first place. The pitiful image on this newspaper's front page on Monday, showing a naked prisoner cowering in front of threatening American guards and their dogs, only persuaded me more that reproducing these pictures and videos is not doing anything positive to bring an end to the war, but it is inflaming the situation further.

Now the battlefront has moved from Iraq and away from weaponry. We are all participating in a war fought via the internet and the news media. Where will it go next?

In this country we have a tradition of withholding the most explicit imagery from the press and our news bulletins, until recently. But do the current events make this change in the change in the position of broadcasters and editors justified?

If this latest imagery were not shocking enough, yesterday's Telegraph took half a page to tell us all about the Palestinians who killed six Israeli soldiers and are using their body parts as "bargaining chips". A 13-year-old schoolboy recounts how he took the head from one of the bodies and kicked it about while others spat on it. What in God's name does this kind of disgusting revelation achieve?

Most readers of the Telegraph and this newspaper are intelligent enough to understand the atrocities that accompany 21st-century warfare. Offering us this kind of lurid detail is achieving nothing except the probability that sooner or later we will become so accustomed to a daily diet of shocking revelations that they start to become meaningless.

As we are provided with increasingly graphic imagery and gory detail in print, it becomes as pornographic as explicit stuff on the internet. I truly believe that the value of relentlessly putting this stuff in front of us in the name of news reporting is debatable.

If we consider the subtle coarsening of our approach to news, we can already see the negative effects it is having on the public's attitude to whole groups of people. The thoroughly salacious coverage of the Soham murders is a case in point. We were told every little detail about the dead girls clothing down to their knickers, and the court proceedings were reconstructed nightly on Sky. Day after day, the tragic demise of Holly and Jessica was recounted in intimate detail.

The end result is that Maxine Carr has been so demonised that she will never be able to live any kind of normal life. The idea that she has served a sentence and should be allowed to get on with things is laughable to the bigots reared on a diet on news overkill. Of course the murders were horrific, but the continued repetition of the poignant picture of two attractive little girls in football shirts only served as more fodder for paedophiles.

And did we really need to know that a German man cut a penis off a chap he befriended via the internet, cooked it, and ate it? Day after day, I find my need to know this kind of rubbish is diminishing.

The real culprits in the Iraq situation are the army leaders and politicians, both here and in America, who have permitted their troops to behave so disgracefully and who offer no sort of leadership whatsoever. From Geoff Hoon downwards, our efforts in Iraq seem to be in the hands of people who always blame someone else for their failures. They were never told about the reports, the information never reached their desk: they always have a pat answer for everything.

Our army has had the wrong kit, but it wasn't Mr Hoon's fault. Now our troops are alleged to have killed civilians and innocent citizens, but it's not his fault either. Whether the Daily Mirror pictures are fakes or re-enactments of unacceptable behaviour, you can rest assured, it won't be Mr Hoon who is taking the blame. President Bush apologises, but Iraqi men and women are still in jail without trial and no doubt many of his troops will still behave in a thoroughly patronising and xenophobic fashion to the very people they wanted to help. Troops need role models, and neither we or the Americans seem capable of providing any.

Please don't show me any more images of body parts, bombings or executions from Iraq. By reproducing this staged propaganda we create a market for it. After all, the British and American troops and members of al-Qa'ida, who posed for and created the pictures in the first place, only did so because they knew they would be eagerly seized by the world's media. And they stand around as nonchalantly as you and I in last year's holiday snaps in Tuscany, confident and happy, having fun and marking the occasion on video and film.

Don't contribute to this pornography by exposing us to it. We need to move on to the far more difficult process of reconciliation, and that can only ever be achieved by talking, not by posing in front of a lens.

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