Vague ramblings

The pornography of news

Posted in Irritants by Ian Cundell on 24 May, 2013

I’ve just had to turn my radio off.

5Live was broadcasting the anguished words of Drummer Lee Rigby’s wife. It wasn’t the anguish – I’m not one who thinks we should hide from the truth, however brutal – but that this was the third time 5Live had played it in half an hour. It turned an agonising insight in personal loss into pornography – an entirely gratuitous dwelling on pain.

Barely 48 hours before, the media had been falling over itself to broadcast the bizarrely polite ravings of the suspected murderer. BBC News tried to show it at least twice, only to have it cut short as various worthies made statements in ‘breaking’ news. I’ve no idea how many times plucky BBC kept at it until it was able to bring us the footage in all its blood-stained grimness. I hope ITV was proud of all the credit it got for unearthing that.

But the tone was set by the Boston Marathon bomb when the widely circulated image of Jeff Bauman Jnr and his utterly destroyed legs whizzed around Twitter – and then across pretty well every news site on the planet, again and again.

Here too, it wasn’t the brutal truth that is the problem, but its repetition ad numbium beyond any need to inform.

This is not news: it is pornography. And, just as Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz worries aloud about the impact of readily accessible hard-core porn on the young, shouldn’t we all be concerned at the impact of such needless wallowing in the pornography of pain and grief?

We get it: something savage and shocking unfolded in Woolwich and a good man paid an appalling price (while a good woman showed breathtaking courage). If you ram it down our throats we become less easily shaken, less sensitive to pain. And that cannot be good for anyone. Would not the barbarians then try that much harder to sicken us?

It’s not too late.

After 9/11, it took a while but eventually the horrific images of people who had chosen to jump rather than burn stopped being shown – it dawned on broadcasters that these were people dying. If 9/11 had happened this week I am not at all sure the same restraint would be shown.

In the face of a common-sense-free social media, the real media needs to re-learn its old trade, not ape the new kid on the block.

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