Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tragedy, Skin Color, and Respect

Following up on my previous post about representing the real tragedy in tsunami affected areas, another topic that's been brought up a lot is the media's display of the grisly remains of those killed and injured by the tsunami. This is clearly nothing new, but Tiffinbox has a new post about it and I thought I'd relate my views on this. Here's an excerpt from Tiffinbox which pretty much summarizes my feelings:

How do Western publications get away with publishing images of strife and pain elsewhere in the world but fail to do the same right here at home? Does a grieving mother in Sri Lanka not have the same rights as that of a grieving mother in the US? Why is the policy different? Why do we extend this courtesy to those in the West, but disregard it when we train our cameras on people who don't look anything like us?Is this a one-sided coin?

However, my focus in this post is not to encourage media to withhold images out of respect. It's on the flip side of this: giving a proper accounting of the tragedy regardless of where it occurs. Sure it's grisly, but it's something we can deal with. Moreover, it's something which may lead to greater benefit overall through heartfelt donations in aid.

Safe to say that after viewing such tragedy on their TVs, a good number of people opened up their hearts and wallets to donate to worthy causes in aid of the survivors of the tsunami. Would as many people have donated if they weren't confronted with such devastation on their TVs? I doubt it. I'd say people's emotions are tied very closely to imagery since that is what sticks in their minds. What sticks is not a reporter reading numbers and describing tragedy. Images stick. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Perhaps the images of tragedy are worth millions of dollars - literally.

I would actually say that it's more important to show the images than to withhold. Whether it's Western or Indian or Iranian or Iraqi, it's better to give a full accounting rather than withholding and "respecting" someones privacy. If that small invasion of privacy leads to a better understanding of and empathy with those affected, then it's worth it.

Currently, the "respect" Western media shows is definitely one-sided. Rather than showing the same respect by withholding, I would want the levels to be evened by giving a proper accounting of what really happened regardless of who is affected or where. Don't just tell us, show us.

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