I remember when I was first studying PR and one of the subjects was Media Studies. One day the lecturer mentioned that the topic would be censorship and everyone assumed, as students do, that it was all about keeping people fully clothed on the television and in magazines. But to my surprise it was to do with violence in newspapers and television. What do you show and what don’t you show? Growing up in South Africa I’m afraid most of us students were all desensitized to violence compared to other PR students in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is quite understandable that you don’t want to sit down and watch the news after getting home from work to see some person in a war zone with half their head removed. Last year when the navy seals stormed the Osama Bin Laden compound in Pakistan a lot of people wanted to see proof that he was indeed dead.
I must confess in a time of wanting instant information I went looking online for a bit more information. I did not find images of Osama Bin Laden but other people who were killed in the operation. Well the images had to be found and certainly not on National TV News.
Looking at all the unrest in the Middle East recently from Egypt through to Libya there almost seems like daily atrocities happening somewhere and TV News networks are there to broadcast it to the world. Do I really want to see children who have been shot and in hospital? Honestly NO! But even as I sit and watch it what can I do to help? In my view, absolutely nothing. So why do I need to see it? It must be sensationalism to increase viewership which in turn increases advertising revenue. I must admit watching the grotesque images on the news when Colonel Gadaffi was killed. In some small way networks seemed to think it was alright to view because of the huge response by the public to see images of Osama Bin Laden after it was reported he was dead.
Years ago, I remember speaking with an old school newspaper editor who was appalled at another newspaper that had put a large colour picture of a dead body on the front of its newspaper. He told me it was done for shock value and an attempt to compete with TV. I was fairly new to the industry and was rather surprised that the persons face had not been blacked out in the picture – something that in media studies I was told would always happen.
Looking back to when I was a student back in the dark ages before email, the internet, social media and blackberrys, it was very easy to agree with censorship ethics but in our modern age with instant news censorship is almost impossible to contain.