Tuesday 10 December 2019

'Good taste' kills children a second time

An Israeli soldier gestures from a tank near the border with Gaza
An Israeli soldier gestures from a tank near the border with Gaza

Robert Fisk

TO DIE is one thing – to be turned into a blob quite another matter. The blob is the weird, mystical 'cloud' which weak-kneed television producers place over the image of a dead human face.

They are not worried that Israelis will complain that a dead Palestinian face demonstrates Israeli brutality: nor that a dead Israeli face will make a beast of the Palestinian who killed the dead Israeli. No. They are worried about official watchdogs. They are worried about good taste because they fear someone will scream if they see a dead human on the news.

First, let's set aside all the usual excuses. I accept there is a pornography of gore and death. There comes a point, perhaps – though this has to my knowledge never been proved – where the repeated sight of human butchery drives others to acts of great cruelty.

There comes a point where filming a terribly mutilated corpse displays – let's use the word, just once – a lack of respect for the dead. Just as we close the lid of a coffin, there comes a point where we have to put down the camera.

But I don't think that's why the dead are being blobbed. I think a cowardly culture of avoiding death on TV is taking possession of the girls and boys who decide what we should see of war. This has grave political implications.

For we are now reaching a point where the dead children of Gaza become faceless. If a little body can be shown, but his or her face – the very image of their soul, especially if it is undamaged by wounds – must be obliterated by a blob, we kill the child a second time.

Let me explain. When they are alive, children may be filmed. If they are wounded – provided that the injuries are not too terrible – we are permitted to view their suffering.

We as nations do not care very much about them. Hence our refusal, for example, to intervene in Gaza. We pity these children – even weep – but we do not respect them. If we did, we'd be outraged by their deaths. But once they are dead, we must show them a respect we never showed them when alive.

Last week, Al Jazeera showed a tearful Palestinian father carrying his killed baby girl to a Gaza cemetery. She had black curly hair and a gentle child's face, dead as if sleeping, innocence made flesh, an angel whom we had killed.

But most UK TV stations destroyed her face with a grey blob. We were permitted by our masters to see her black curly hair. But beneath it lay that disgusting, deleting blob. It was an insult to the father and to the child.

Had he not carried her in public to show us the extent of his loss? Did he not wish us to see the face of the angel who had just died? Of course, he did.

But British TV conmen – gutless, fearful of their masters – decided this father should not be allowed to show us the extent of his loss. They had to disfigure his daughter with that blob. They turned a girl into a faceless doll.

This has nothing to do with watchdog Ofcom's oh-so-moral demand that audiences should never view the "point of death" – although I have shown a Gaza Palestinian dying on the operating theatre in a 1992 documentary, and we are constantly shown replays of television journalists being rocketed to death by a US helicopter over Baghdad.

And it has nothing to do with 'good taste'. I find the sight of Israeli guns or Hamas rockets in disgustingly bad taste. But no, TV soaks up these scenes. We must watch them. Weapons are good. Bodies are bad. Oh, what a lovely war.

Back in 2003, I remember a brave camera crew pleading with Reuters to allow them to send their footage of Iraqi civilian victims – wounded, as well as dead – of a British army bombardment of Basra. The crew were superciliously told that they were wasting their time sending their transmission to London. It couldn't be shown at tea time.

I know that many of my television colleagues are furious at this censorship. "Preposterous, absurd, and getting worse," was how my old mate Alex Thomson of Channel 4 reacted when I called him to discuss this most potent of self-censorship last week. He recalled how British TV viewers could see medical staff collecting body parts from Oxford Street bus station in Belfast on Bloody Friday. This, of course, emphasised the iniquity of the IRA.

Historically, we aren't squeamish about the dead. Documentaries show bulldozers heaping naked Jewish corpses into graves at Belsen in 1945. We see thousands of images of dead soldiers in documentaries on World War One. Is there a time limit on death?

War is not about victory and defeat but about the total failure of the human spirit. The little girl's face. This is what the producers and 'line managers' and prissy little men and women of TV want to keep hidden from us.

(©Independent News Service)

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