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When is Content Too Graphic?

by on December 7, 2015

“60 Minutes” aired footage of the 2013 sarin gas attack on Damascus for Scott Pelley’s report “A Crime Against Humanity.” This sparked controversy because of the graphic, bloody images of victims in the aftermath of the attack during the Syrian Civil War.

Despite its controversy, the reporter Pelley described the effect of the graphic footage: “If you don’t see it, I don’t believe the impact truly hits you.”

In a similar situation, Susan Sontag published an article for the “New York Times” discussing the torture by American soldiers and the conditions of Abu Ghraib, after images had leaked of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. The American public is so far removed from the conditions of war. We have no idea of what is going on, only an idea of what we think might be. The coverage we receive through news is the only taste we have of what occurs, which, again is very distant and often repetitive.

The images were published by an unknown source, and that begs me to ask: because of the anonymity, was this an act of a journalist? Are these images considered journalistic, items of news? So, is it important for the American public to know about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by viewing the graphic images? Yes.

And yes to the chilling footage of the gas attack, which included many child victims. I do not think there is any footage too graphic for news, but with some sort of content warning. Because there was a lack of recognition of the act which had happened a year and a half earlier, and those who had committed it were not held accountable, I think it was important for “60 Minutes” to cover the aftermath of the attack as honestly as they could — which means graphic, terrifying, painful to watch, to capture the sympathy and concern of the American people.









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One Comment
  1. Graphic images and video segments have always stirred the pot when it comes to American media. Do we, as journalists have the right to project these images on behalf of what we believe to be the interest of the people? I have to agree with your central point Emily – yes, these images have a purpose and a direct impact. Besides the fact that it is the “public’s right to know,” it is essential to view these images and videos as a devastating reality of the cruelest capabilities of humanity. When we look back in history, it is the harrowing images of mass graves during the Holocaust, and the blood infused black and white photos of the Vietnam War that are forever ingrained in our minds. It is important to visualize what we read and hear about. Letters and newspaper articles can only tell us so much – it was the introduction of news in photojournalism and video that added a tangible and visceral response from people. As unsettling as these images appear, they are crucial to our understanding of an unfortunate reality.

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