Post-Katrina Censorship: It's a Matter of Style

Friday, September 09, 2005

Post-Katrina Censorship: It's a Matter of Style

Buried on page C8 in yesterday's Washington Post "Style" section -- six pages after a story headlined "Shopper: Aprons Too Hot for the Kitchen" -- was this news article:
When U.S. officials asked the news media not to take pictures of those killed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, they were censoring a key part of the disaster story, free-speech watchdogs said yesterday.

The move by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is in line with the Bush administration's ban on images of flag-draped U.S. military coffins returning from the Iraq war, media monitors charged in separate telephone interviews.

"It's impossible for me to imagine how you report a story whose subject is death without allowing the public to see images of the subject of the story," said Larry Siems of the PEN American Center, an authors' group that defends free expression.

... "This is about managing images and not public taste or human dignity," (Tom) Rosenstiel (of Columbia University's journalism school) said. He said FEMA's refusal to take journalists along on recovery missions meant that media workers would go on their own .... "By and large, American television is the most sanitized television in the world," he said. "They are less likely to show bodies, they are less likely to show graphic images of the dead than any television in the world."

There is also a question of what the American PEN Center's Siems called "international equity," noting that American news outlets cover stories around the world showing the effects of natural disasters and wars in graphic detail.

"How is the world going to look at us if we go into their part of the world and we broadcast these images and we do not allow ourselves to look at such images when they're right in our own midst?" Siems said.
Siems has a good point. However, over the past nine months, if you blinked while watching American TV, you probably missed the video images of human death and misery from Darfur.

Why? Our TV news executives would rather tell us about the "runaway bride." And, apparently, the Post would rather inform us that there's a sexy little apron out there that can make us (or our significant others) forget about whether dinner has been burned.

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