Found this interesting article at the Guardian:
Brutal reality hits home
Since Vietnam, the public has only seen a sanitised version of war. But the internet, with its unfettered access, has changed all that. Sean Dodson reports
Thursday August 21, 2003
The warning comes before the image. A two-paragraph disclaimer justifying some of the most gruesome images of war you are likely to see. The first image is of a boy with his legs blown off. Then there is another child – face in close-up – with streams of blood pouring down his young face. The next is the head of a horribly burned man swathed in white bandages. It is followed by the swollen neck of a peace protester, the victim of wood pellets fired from a gun in Oakland. The website adds that the suspects are policemen.
These images – and some far, far worse – come courtesy of a New Zealand website that describes itself as a “fiercely independent internet news agency”. For several months, Scoop Media has been publishing the kind of graphic images you rarely see in mass circulation newspapers or on western television. And, until now, rarely on the internet.
Ever since Roger Fenton, a founder of the Royal Photographic Society, covered the Crimean war armed with a box camera and a letter of introduction from Prince Albert, photojournalism has been an essential part of war reporting. Fenton’s aim, and that of Prince Albert, was to provide a set of images that would restore public confidence in an unpopular war. The role of the war photographer was set.
But by the time of the Vietnam war, photography as a propaganda tool had backfired. Horrific images of the conflict turned the US public against the war. Since then, in each subsequent war, the public has been presented with images far less graphic. The recent war in Iraq was no different, with a straw poll by MediaGuardian.co.uk at the war’s height indicating that few UK picture editors were willing to risk upsetting readers with pictures of fatalities, even if they were in the background. As Phillip Knightley wrote in the First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Kosovo: “Although in most cases the camera does not lie directly, it can lie brilliantly by omission.”
“To sanitise the reality of warfare is abhorrent,” explains Scoop’s editor, Alastair Thompson. “To censor images of capture, of death, as a consequence of war, is wrong. If Scoop were to do so, it would be subscribing to the glitzy rah rah Hollywood-facade-style of reportage that the mainstream United States-based media has become obsessed with.”
The Qatari news network, al-Jazeera, painted no such picture during the war. And it could have provided a counterbalance for western audiences. But its English language website was inaccessible during much of the conflict. A denial of service attack on the site, allegedly the target of belligerent hackers, shut it down, preventing a western audience from seeing a far more bloody portrait of Iraq. That website is now under wraps, preparing itself for a relaunch later this year.
Even if you can’t speak a word of Arabic, the internet allows you less fettered access to the realities of war. You don’t even have to look hard. Simply type “war graphic image iraq” into Google and you can see some of the most terrible images imaginable. Many are from IndyMedia sites, alternative news networks and Arab stations, but there are stranger bedfellows, too. Among Google’s returns will be a site called Babykiller.com, built by US anti-abortionists who rage against the war by cataloguing pictures of child atrocities. The left-wing Scoop Media has some surprising company.
Viewing these sites throws up a number of moral dilemmas. Are you being voyeuristic? Are the websites perversely triumphal? Are they simply preaching to the converted, providing nothing but war pornography? What about notions of taste and decency?
“Are taste and decency relevant standards when considering war?” asks Thompson. “War is horrible, it is grotesque, revolting and deeply disturbing. Why should it be any different for the public, in whose name the mayhem is being waged? This is not to say we did not have misgivings about publishing some images, we did.”
Each news organisation, be it a website, a newspaper or a television station, has debates about what images to show. The images of the bloated heads of the dead Uday and Qusay Hussein were only published in the Guardian and on its website, Guardian Unlimited, after much heated debate.
But even when television does portray war in all its graphic and uncensored detail, it holds it at arms’ length. Channel 4’s excellent The True Face of War was screened at 11.20pm. As one viewer wrote on the Channel 4 website: “However distressing – and I can hardly write this through my tears – this programme should be shown at PRIME time.”
It is worth remembering, there is no prime time on the internet. There is only choice. Although military censorship and hacker attacks can disrupt it, a more graphic face of war is bleeding on to the internet and coverage of war may be never the same.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003