Screening blood and gore

Jun 13th, 2011 | By | Category: PEMRA

Profiting from tragedyBy now the images have become burned into the public mind. A young un-armed man is gunned down in the street. This is not the first incident of its kind, but it is perhaps history making because for once there is evidence enough to demand accountability. But as the gruesome scene is re-played over and over by TV channels, the question remains whether repeated showing of the video is necessary to inform the public, or simply exploiting a tragedy in order to increase ratings and profits.

Earlier this year, PEMRA fined two TV channels for violating PEMRA regulations including, “screening blood and gore which by all means is in contravention to PEMRA Rules, Regulations and Code of Conduct besides the self-regulatory Code of Conduct agreed to by the many members of PBA”. Today, the gory video of another murder is screened repeatedly and yet there has been no word of caution.

Zafar Hilaly notes that this repeated screening has other meaning which must be considered.

First, blanketing TV screens with endless replays of the gruesome killing was perverse. What is there to relish in showing man’s inhumanity to man over and over again? All it does is prove that brute force — the law of the jungle — rules in Pakistan. But we know that already and frankly one more killing is but drudge. Or is it because many TV viewers are illiterate and violence in Pakistan is now the repartee of the common man, in other words, the only way he can communicate his angst? So heaping it on, besides being good for the ratings, gives the public the gore that it seems to want. One often wonders whether our channels realise that as sensibilities to pain decline, they will have to raise the dose of cruelty on view to gain attention.

Even on TV talk shows, nothing gets better ratings than two panelists fighting it out and if a flying saucer, glass or water accompanies their rage, so much the better. Just stirring things up, anchors seem to feel, is a reward in itself. They want the audience to get a kick out of their show even if it risks a kick in the teeth of a panelist.

Ironically, even the TV channel associated with the paper that published Mr Hilaly’s column has shown the gruesome murder on repeat.

It was not too long ago that there were court hearings about cartoons on a web site that hurt the religious sensibilities of the people. But what does it mean when our sensibilities have become so numbed to the pain and suffering of our fellow man that a video of a murder is treated so coldly? Obviously, there is the unfortunate need to make available the proofs in order to stop cover ups and conspiracy theories from taking hold. But evidence can be made available without being exploited. This is not to say that PEMRA should make any fines against any TV channels or media groups in this case, but it is to say that we need to have an honest discussion about our own judgment as journalists and how we can inform the public while also respecting the individuals who are affected and their families also.


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