Questionable ethics in the media coverage of Iraq

14-05-2004

Photos and videos in the media of torture and execution - the most recent the beheading of a 26 year-old US civilian in Iraq - have been shocking readers and viewers all over the world, questioning how far the media should be allowed to go to cover the realities of war and conflict. Vit Pohanka is one of the three Czech journalists who were kidnapped by rebel Iraqi insurgents last month but were freed just under a week later.

Vit PohankaVit Pohanka Vit, how do you feel about the photograph published in the Polish tabloid, or the horrendous pictures and videos of the decapitation in the media around the world?

"I think it's wrong, bad, and it shouldn't have happened. The media should respect certain limits and by publishing such photos and generally speaking, by publishing gruesome images, one should always ask whether this is just for the sake of showing something shocking and those people who did it shouldn't consider themselves journalists. The question is whether you publish pictures or images or even sounds that are only shocking and you publish them only because you want to attract more listeners, viewers, readers, and so on, or whether you do that in order to show what reality is like. Even in such a case, you can always warn the people about what they are going to see might be disturbing, for example on television. There are always technical ways of blurring pictures and making them less painful to relatives or friends. It should never be the case that you show such pictures only because you want to raise your circulation and increase the number of your viewers or listeners."

So what about the editor-in-chief's argument that it was the best picture available and the only way to make Poland aware of how dangerous its involvement in Iraq is. You've been covering Iraq yourself and despite your kidnapping you've said you'd like to go back. How dangerous is it...is the public in this part of the world getting the real picture?

"I do believe that the media should also cover the nasty things. But the picture is usually much more complex, it's broader and it's not only the gruesome pictures that you get in Iraq. Let me give you an example. On a day when you might get news from Baghdad that there is fighting in the southern Shia part of Baghdad, which is notorious for clashes between the coalition forces and the local Shia insurgents, for many local people, and I dare say a majority of the local people it might be just a normal day when they open their shops, when they go about their business. So, my criticism of the media would not be that they cover the gruesome and sometimes tragic events or situations too extensively, but that they don't give their viewers, listeners, and readers, the complex picture, which is always more difficult and takes more time and work."

14-05-2004

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