The BBC, during their main news programme of the day, has just broadcast the graphic mobile phone footage of Gaddafi being first detained, and then seemingly killed in cold blood. It climaxed with a lingering shot of Gaddafi’s bloodied and lifeless face.
I’m not here concerned with the morality of his killing, beyond observing that there is a difference between the actions of an amateur army made up of those directly at the sharp end of a dictator’s brutality, and the planned summary execution of Bin Laden by trained US marines. So I would hesitate to condemn Gaddafi’s killing in quite the straightforward way that I did Bin Laden’s. Rather, I’m interested here in the reporting, and in particular the broadcasting of that video footage.
There seem to be two fundamental positions. On the one hand, there is the view that showing such graphic and violent imagery dehumanises the viewer as much as the person taking the video. It is unnecessary and merely sensationalist prurience, appealing to all our basest and most primitive instincts. On the other is the claim that we need, indeed have a moral duty, to be exposed to the reality of what’s being done in our name. War is too sanitised, and we too easily forget what it really means, and perhaps too easily acquiesce in its commission. We require our noses to be rubbed in all its violent and disturbing reality.
I genuinely do not know what I think about this. I can see powerful arguments in both directions. I have a strong suspicion that we do too easily protect ourselves from realities we’d rather not face. But I also worry about the thirst we seem to have to see the blood, to treat the world as if it were a horror film or a video game.
I can only leave you to draw your own conclusions, and come to your own rapprochement between these two legitimate positions. But one thing I do know. It is not necessary, nor is it proper or civilised or acceptable to print, as the distasteful and ever-repugnant Sun has done, a full-page photograph of Gaddafi’s half-blown-off face along with the headline, “That’s for Lockerbie”.