Tom Goulter - Disaffected Youth, Christchurch

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Substantially less than the 3000 words mandated by proverbial wisdom

In what has to be the most daring piece of journalistic burrowing since Woodward and Bernstein, TV3 on Saturday delivered a hard-hitting, objective piece on American and British reactions to the 48 Hours item featuring new pictures of Princess Diana taken moments after the car crash. 48 Hours, of course, being the current-events arm of CBS News, who - that's right, it's time for a punchline! - produced the report 3 News aired.

Consequently, viewers were treated to justification after justification of CBS' actions, with neat little sidelines in ragging on the British tabloid press (which, really, is just shooting fish in the proverbial barrel) and pointing out the inquisitive nature of Britons who, apparently, will be gagging to read all about the whole affair once the fuss has abated.

Which, to concede CBS a valid point (if nothing else so they'll keep sending me Letterman), they most likely will.

While the debate raises many obvious questions about journalistic integrity and standards, not many conclusions of note were reached due to Americans being suddenly and somewhat violently distracted by an unauthorised-picture scandal of their own. While, by all accounts, the circumstances surrounding the controversial photograph were entirely above-board, and the photo taken in a spirit of respect and honesty, the same questions are being asked as in the Diana case. Are the families being respected? Is this journalism or sensationalism? Is the emphasis here on the human tragedy of the event in question, or the political ramifications?

The link above being to lefty-pinko-commie rag The New York Times, readers may have started formulating predictions as to where this post will go with these questions. And, yes, it is difficult to imagine the Bush administration not politicising the whole affair (of course, politics is an integral part of the whole debate; but there's asking, "Are we being disrespectful to the families of soldiers killed in combat?" and meaning it, and then there's The White House's version of the above).

The difference in the two cases, of course, is that while the Al-Fayeds may continue to attempt to prove a conspiracy in the Diana case, graphic images of the immediate event really serve no purpose so much as to satisfy morbid curiosity regarding international icons. It can't be easy taking the ethical high road knowing full well that as long as the images are out there, someone will publish them sooner or later, but as they used to say round my old high school, "the easy path is the easy path to hell". (Yes, it was a Catholic school, what tipped you off?).

The coffin photos, meanwhile, may well be painful for many (and they have my sympathies, for what that's worth), but as media coverage attests, many more families and loved ones of troops killed in Iraq want the images made public - for the same reasons anyone else in favor of publishing them would argue. Because we can't look back in five years' time and remember the war only as seen by the Embeds: wherever it is that the US (and the world) has got itself, only honest reporting, discussion and reflection on the situation will yield a positive outcome.