Friday, October 21, 2011

Graphic Gaddafi images feed cycle of violence, retribution

The publication of photos and videos of Gaddafi’s demise raise a number of peace-journalism related issues.

I asked my Park University students if they would print or post graphic photos or video of dead Gaddafi. Some said yes, some no. I asked them to be thoughtful and deliberate in their choice, regardless of whether they would publish the photos/video or not. I also asked the student-journalists to consider the consequences of their actions. (This is particularly salient for media in the Arab world and in Libya itself). Would publishing these images inflame an already volatile situation (perhaps inter-tribal conflicts)? Would these images, if seen publicly, feed a cycle of retribution (violent act leads to retribution leads to more violence, ad infinitum).

I also “discussed” the Gaddafi death images with my online peace journalism students who are all Ugandan radio reporters. Here are some of their comments:

Stephen: “The photo is shocking and horrific! I even saw it in the national vernacular daily (Bukedde) and failed to give it a second sight! Such photos hardens the heart of the reader for more violence. No wonder, many people all over the world suggested that they would rather have Gaddafi tried than killed. Possible reasons for this could be due to the photos and footages shown on the killing of Libyan former president."

Mathias: “The picture is in bad taste, the media and news-wire administrators may not all be sensitized in peace journalism/conflict sensitive journalism approaches. But this cannot exonerate them from ethical level of responsibility required in handling gory scenes of this nature. Remember the ethical questions in publishing, and I do not need to recount this here. Always ask the question: what will it achieve, does it add value to the information already available to the reader/ listener? The 'Shock and Awe' style of journalism is exiting out the corner.”

Betty: Publishing dead Gaddafi's photos is just too inflammatory. If it was for assuring the world that he is dead, it would at least be a decent body, not naked and with all that blood oozing from every part of his body. So irritating to look at indeed.”

As the editor of an American or online publication, I would have probably posted some of the less bloody-images. As the editor of a Libyan publication, I would not have run any of these pictures or video because such images would feed a cycle of inter-tribal conflict and might even contribute to violent retribution. Certainly, Gaddafi's tribe and the rest of Libya now need to reconcile, and I believe publishing these images would make this reconciliation much more difficult.

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