October 31, 2011

Kenya: Airing the Brutal Killing of Gaddafi On TV Akin to 'Death Pornography'

Rasna Warah30 October 2011

International news networks sunk to their lowest levels by airing the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Whether or not Gaddafi deserved to die is debatable, though I personally believe that no killing can be justified, no matter how heinous the crime.

But did the world have to see the dictator dying on television?

I would like to ask the editors at Al Jazeera, CNN, Sky and other internationally-respected networks what on earth compelled them to air this vile form of "death pornography"?

Would they have aired the images if the person being killed was the leader of a Western nation? Would we have seen the blood and the gratuitous and grotesque violence? No, we would have not.

A case in point is the murder of the Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl at the hands of Al Qaeda in 2002. Al Qaeda had videoed the killing, but no news network dared to show it on air. It would have been in bad taste, too impolite, too uncivilised to do so.

But when it comes to persons of non-Caucasian origin, anything is game. Our very own Zain Verjee of CNN kept referring to Gaddafi as a "mad dog" (a term first used by US President Ronald Reagan to describe Gaddafi) minutes after he was killed. Was this really necessary?

The tabloids in the West have gone a step further. The Sun newspaper in Britain even carried a photo of Gaddafi's corpse lying in a cold storage room. The headline read "Dead Dog".

When I saw the footage of Gaddafi being dragged, beaten and shot amid a jeering crowd, my first instinct was to vomit. It was the same nausea I felt when the world was shown images of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein being executed in December 2006.

Surely people -- no matter how evil -- deserve dignity and privacy in death. What makes the murderous mobs that killed Gaddafi any different from him? If these are the leaders that are going to take over from him, then God help Libya.

I am in complete agreement with Britain's Defence Secretary Philip Hammond who said that the reputation of Libya's new leaders is "stained" by the killing of Gaddafi. This stain is made worse by the barbaric way in which he was killed.

Many say that viewing Gaddafi's death was cathartic and that the people of Libya deserved to see this dictator die.

They say that these images would have found their way on the Internet, anyway, and that the television networks were just showing what people would have seen one way or another.

On the first point I would say that true catharsis would have come about if Gaddafi had faced a trial locally or at the International Criminal Court.

Besides, Gaddafi had many sordid secrets that the world needed to know. Now that he's dead, we'll never know what those secrets were.

As for the second point, well, we all know that pornography is available on the Internet, but not all of us choose to watch it.

The difference between journalism and pornography is that journalism is supposed to have some standards, rules that have to be obeyed, and ethical codes of conduct that generate trust among the readership.

These rules and codes of conduct prevent newspapers, for instance, from publishing rape victims' photographs and deter them from using language that could be considered offensive.

Newspapers that ignore these rules are often derogatively called "the gutter press" because that's where they belong -- in the gutter, along with pornography.

Ironically, not too long ago, Western nations were doing good business with the very dictators they now vilify. Egypt under Hosni Mubarak was the darling of the West.

In fact, almost all Arab states -- including those with repressive monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed to drive -- have got a nod of approval from Washington, London and Paris, no doubt because of the huge oil wealth they harbour.

Bahrain, where the US and Britain have naval bases, still has Western support, despite protests against the monarchy there.

There have been no calls by Western nations for democratisation and good governance in these countries, at least not as loud as those that are made in African countries south of the Sahara. What hypocrisy!

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