Shattering the quietness of an elementary school, the killer's gun roared on the Friday (14 December) morning in Newtown, Connecticut. Within minutes, 26 people were dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School-- 20 of them children. The 20-year old shooter also was killed. Apparently, he shot himself to death.
The killing of beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 touched the people across the world, tears rolled down the cheeks of President Barack Obama as he was delivering a statement on the shooting incident.
The world media gave wide coverage of the news of this gruesome killing; we watched the incident in our country as well, but nowhere had we seen bodies of the victims or stain of blood; nor did we hear the wailing of the children as they were dying. But we saw the burnt and decomposed bodies of the Tazreen Fashion's fire victims at Ashulia. The charred bodies beyond recognition wrapped in white clothes were piled up in a nearby school building.
The images of such dreadful events do evoke panic and harmful impact on human minds; particularly in the minds of the children. It may cause mental disorder as they grow up. What about the people with weak hearts or those lying in hospital beds? Can they bear such horrendous scenes? Is not it better to refrain from showing such horrifying images?
Showing the bodies or dreadful act of violence is not the only testimony of the reported events. The viewers did not see the bodies of the Newtown school shoot-out victims, but none questioned about the accuracy of the event or that of the news item. Then why did not the Bangladeshi TV channels report the Tazreen fire incident without showing the mutilated bodies? The viewers could well appreciate the gravity of the situation even without the frightening pictures.
There are other instances -- the incident of Nine Eleven -- four hijacked airliners crashing onto separate targets in the United States. The incident that killed 3000 men, women and children rocked the world.
Two 110 storied buildings in ablaze falling apart, what a horrifying scene! It must have been the scene of a pool of blood. Screams of dying people, helpless horror, yelling for help echoed through the air of Manhattan as the Twin Towers were collapsing.
People worldwide saw the aircraft hitting the towers and how the skyscrapers were tumbling down. But how many saw the footage of any dead body or even a scar of blood-none, why? Here comes the question of ethics. Projection of the horrifying pictures could impact the people with weaker heart, patients, pregnant women and minds of the children. Images of the carnage could also have sparked communal or racial restlessness within the American society and elsewhere. Projection of dreadful pictures particularly of the dead bodies would best serve the purpose of the attackers, and the television channels unwittingly would have been playing as tools into the hands of the terrorists by showing terrifying images.
Media play the role of conscience building. With their mighty pen and lens, the media men command the power to mould the mind of the people. Media infuses love or hatred, optimism or pessimism, liking or disliking, hopes or despair, vindictiveness or forgiveness, restlessness or calmness among the people. A responsible media is self-censored, and applying their conscience, decides the 'shoulds' and 'should nots'. No rules, no advice, no restriction can enforce ethics and morality. It has to be self-imposed and guided by self-judgment and conscience. The world will bear out how the careful handling of the videos of nine eleven carnage helped prevalence of tranquility, and easing further tension, restlessness and vindictiveness, not in the American society alone, the world in general.
Thanks again to the media worldwide that it refrained from showing the horrifying pictures of the victims of the tsunami tragedy in Japan that claimed nearly 8000 lives in March, 2011. There must have been horrendous sights which were too dreadful to be humanly conceived. Media leaders have proved that death news, even stories of massacre or human tragedy can be reported without showing the bodies of the victims or images of violence. It is immoral and unethical to do business in whatever manner it may be, with the images of the dead or dying.
Back home, the six young boys, who were lynched by unruly mob at Aminbazar near Dhaka in July 2011, at least deserved human treatment after their death. Close shots from different angles of six lifeless bodies lying uncared on the sands and elsewhere only speak of the barrenness of our heart and our failure to keep sanctity of dead bodies. It further demonstrates extremism, crime, and lawlessness and that might spur panic and despair in the society. It makes people intolerant and drives the society towards extremism where such crimes become an ordinary affair.
Were the bodies part and parcel of the news item? What the viewers learnt new which they would not have known before seeing the lifeless bodies of the victims! Would the viewers question the objectivity or accuracy of the news item without the images of the dead? Media leaders of Bangladesh have to think over it and find their answers. If showing the images added no new information, then why show them at all, why violate the sanctity and privacy of dead bodies.
There are often incidents of murder, violence and terrorism, accidents and many other disorders in the society. In their criterion of news, the TV channels in Bangladesh generally put them with high priority; and horrifying and brutal images -- sometimes in close shots are shown to the viewers who combine people of all ages and classes. In case of accidents or launch capsize; there is a competition to show as many bodies as possible. Can the media men not understand what impact it might have in the minds of those viewing such heart rending scenes? Do they in any way make the viewers get going easy with the acts of violence and terrorism, or if the dismal pictures create discontentment or unstable situation in the society'? The news that number of autistic babies is on the rise pains and scares us.
Another incident -- on July 22, 2011, the country that awards Nobel Prize -- Norway experienced the worst crime scene in the country since World War Two. A bomb ripped through the government buildings in the capital Oslo killing seven persons, while the pine green island of Utoeya turned red with the carnage of a gunman-- 85 young men and young women were killed in less than an hour time. The news was covered and headlined by all the media worldwide. But how many dead bodies, or what amount of blood have we seen?
Biswajit, who ran a tailoring shop, was beaten and hacked to death during the opposition countrywide road blockade programme on Dec 9. The death of innocent pedestrian Bishwajit will haunt us; but the dreadful picture of bloodstained Bishwajit that we saw on TV will continue to frighten us. Projection of such images cast a frustrating and disturbing impact on the minds of the viewers.
The general masses have total indignation towards hartal, but looking at the TV footages of car vandalizing and violence created by the hartal activists on the previous evening and on the very morning of the hartal day, the panicked members of the public dare not move to the street with their vehicles. Had the TV channels refrained from showing such videos, the very purpose of the violence mongers would have been defeated and possibly the anarchists would have refrained from doing so in their future programmes. In fact by showing the terrifying images, the media unwittingly play as tools into the hands of the terrorists.
Media men are opinion leaders. Readers or viewers look at an incident through the eyes of the media and thus are guided the way media shows them. Therefore the journalists have a social responsibility -- a responsibility they can not avoid as professionals or a social or human being.
The principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, fairness, ethics and above all public accountability should be followed and disseminated to the public. These codes and canons that vary somewhat from country to country and organisation to organisation provide journalists a framework for self-monitoring and self-correction. Conscientious journalists from all media strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty.
During the normal course of an assignment a reporter might go about gathering facts and details, conducting interviews, taking photos and video taping; but the questions whether everything learned should be reported and, if so, how-- should get considerations. This principle of limitation means that some weight needs to be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure or creating an ethical dilemma. Sensationalism must not get priority over objectivity and public interest.
A journalist must make decisions taking into account things such as the public's right to know, potential threats, reprisals and intimidations of all kinds and consequences. He must bear out the objectives of news-- inform, educate, aware, and entertain the audience. In any way it is not to frighten them.
The writer is editorial consultant at FE. He can be reached at: email@example.com