Death in the Media

Assignment: Write a 500-word blogpost on your view of the limits of acceptability in reporting and showing death.

The other night I managed to finish my homework early and watch a movie to procrastinate and avoid doing the dishes. I opened Netflix and decided to watch Reservoir Dogs, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Never having seen a Tarantino movie before, I struggled to get through the first couple of minutes, but I held out and ended up loving it: blood, guts, and everything. And in the back of my mind, I knew that was fiction.

Reality is just as gruesome, in fact more so in some places when you consider recent events. So why is it that I can scroll through Netflix and pick out bloody horror movies, watch CIA-inspired torture scenes, and see historically-inspired gory battle scenes in video, yet struggle to find footage of death in real life? Heated debates are constantly taking place over whether or not the public should be exposed to graphic, disturbing images of conflict and battle. In fact, the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, tweeted a few months ago about suspending accounts publicizing the video of the ISIS beheading:

Should this censorship be allowed to take place? I understand censorship of people who are using the video to promote ISIS and recognize that is a distinct possibility, but is this kind of media control okay? Jeff Bercovici of Forbes magazine phrases the dilemma so:

“For a group like ISIS, a video showing the beheading of an American captive is a twisted sort of win-win: Either it succeeds in turning the world’s most powerful and admired tech firms into distribution partners for a message of violent extremism, or those firms clamp down on the content, betraying their stated commitment to the American principle of free speech.” [x]

My short answer is no. Although Bercovici is right, what he hasn’t taken into account is the ability of the people watching to come to their own conclusions. Sure, for ISIS it is a message of violent extremism, but for someone watching the video it could be a motivation to educate themselves on current events and end up opposing violent extremism. It could be the push to help people read and distinguish between the religion of Islam and the radically different religious extremism.

What scares people is not knowing, especially if they don’t even know what they don’t know. The public has a right to to access information, and only an individual should be able to decide whether or not they want to see it. Regardless of the content, whether it be brutal footage of executions, or images of dead US soldiers and coffins, people should be able to have the right to make their own decisions.

Despite my belief in free access to the “whole story”, I do think that there are limits not to what people should be able to see, but how it is framed. Journalists and photographers are in the unique position to frame the pictures and videos using words, so sensitivity should be observed to the maximum and bias should be kept out entirely.

Once the information is out there however, I really have no opinion on whether or not people should watch the videos. I certainly don’t hold the opinion that people should be forced to watch something that makes them uncomfortable. This video below brings up some interesting points regarding watching the ISIS videos:

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.


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