by GERARD McCULLOCH
Warning: The images depicted further down in this post may be distressing for some readers.
The late news on Wednesday night started with a breathless update on the investigation into the Essendon AFL club’s drug program. The rapidly developing scandal was the big story of the day.
I wondered if the news was going to mention the reports filtering out of Syria, where a chemical or biological agent had reportedly been unleashed in a large-scale attack on a civilian area of Damascus.
The images appearing on social media backed reports of hundreds of dead – and a few shell-shocked survivors – many of them young children. Pale, limp, and lifeless. Not a scratch on them.
After a few more stories, including a tangential NRL angle on the football drugs scandal, the late news eventually reported the attacks. It was a verbal mention only, because the images were “too confronting for broadcast.”
The comment hit a nerve. I exploded. I even tweeted the network, knowing the futility of the gesture. Twitter is good for a vent.
What can I say? Fury breeds sanctimony. Sorry.
Here’s a still shot from a video purporting to show victims of the attack.
Most of those in the frame are dead children. As with most footage out of Syria, I have to add the disclaimer that it has not been independently verified due to the scarcity of foreign journalists in the country. (A pro-revolution blog has compiled purported images and videos of the attack here.)
You should know that I studied in Damascus in the 1990s, and have been back since. Even pre-war, life wasn’t easy for many locals, but they maintained a hospitality and humour that left an indelible imprint. Damascus is as close to a second home as I have.
These days, I stay up late into the night gleaning murky updates from Twitter and YouTube. I carry a quiet heartbreak with me every morning as I head off to work, where I write jokes about Justin Bieber and wonder how I live with myself.
So, yes, I was edgy. But the “too confronting” disclaimer didn’t just rankle because of my interest in this story.
It’s also because I feel passionately that Australian TV networks must stop wrapping viewers in blinkers when it comes to disaster in the rest of the world. Only when Australians are exposed to the full reality and horror of life – and death – in the rest of the world will we see our own country clearly.
By international standards, Australian viewers are treated like children. Europeans see dead bodies on their news. The Middle East too. Even the Americans may be less uptight about it than we are. But the powers that be in Australian TV think we prefer foreign tragedies delivered to us in statistics rather than vision.
Or do we? Did you see that high-speed Spanish train crash? The one that killed 79 people? Of course you did. Wasn’t the CCTV footage amazing? Let’s see that again in slo-mo. What a news producer’s dream that footage was. 79 people killed in an instant, and not a single body in shot. Great, we can run that in prime time. Ditto World Trade Centre replays.