27 Jul 2010

Wikileaks, war and calling the kettle black?

The feverish activity across global news rooms to ferret out the best of the leaks from the morass of military material about the Afghan war disclosed on Wikileaks is continuing apace.

Undoubtedly, we are learning more of the scale, more of the mess that is military service in this war with its still indistinct concept of what “success” constitutes.

There is much finger pointing at military inaccuracy, secrecy, cover-up and the rest. But I find myself wondering how history will judge the media’s role.

Last year I reported a documentary entitled Gaza Unseen. We contrasted what the Arab TV world was transmitting of the Israeli invasion and what we were putting out.

Whilst Arab television was showing unexpurgated footage of the most appalling death, destruction, and maiming. We in Britain were subjected to much less body-strewn coverage.

Of course, the UK media is overseen by a regulatory system which is in place to ensure “taste and decency”. Much war transcends all concepts of taste and decency. Indeed one could argue that by definition war can be both indecent and tasteless.

Indeed on such grounds my Gaza documentary had to be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Channel 4.

The other night I gave a talk at the Frontline Club and showed some reports I’d made in El Salvador and on the frontline of the Iran/Iraq war. There was a distinct  awareness in the room that many of the images that were acceptable in 1981/2 might struggle to pass the “taste and decency” test today.

My concern is that we may be doing a little of what we are today accusing the military.

I have Snowblogged before about the sanitisation of war. Could the Afghan war be waged if the unexpurgated images were transmitted?

It has long been argued that World War One would never have lasted so long had the television age already dawned. The Afghan war has raged for nigh on twice the length.

Is there not a danger that what the military and the media have left out of our accounts might have served to shorten it?

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