Monthly Archive for March, 2011

Reporting the war – when does transparency turn into blind fascination?

After I came home from the ICA yesterday where several political thinkers had spoken, I turned on the news while preparing dinner. The BBC reported on Libya, and I got deeply worried. I checked other news sides, but the tendency was the same. We are at war.

Listen to the following cut copy news paste: The Americans had launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from a Trafalgar Class submarine and Stormshadow missiles from Tornado GR4s. The fast jets flew 3,000 miles from RAF Marham and back making this the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict. The operation was supported by VC10 and Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft as well as E3D Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft. One large airbase alone is reported to have been hit with 40 bombs from an American stealth bomber. Maybe we are also at a sports competition.

Is it a Jeff Wall picture, or the war? – The New York Times isn’t sure.

What is reporting the war turning into being part of the war? When are we close, when are we too detailled? When does reporting turn into propaganda? The matériel battle that unfolded in front of my eyes made me feel uncomfortable. Angry. I turned to Twitter, and was relieved to find several people expressing the same worries.

Cameron said what we are doing is necessary, right and legal, and that the soldiers were the bravest of the brave. A retired general said that Lybia should be afraid. We are telling people in our news they should be afraid of us. The BBC broadcasted it. No, they didn’t comment.

Of course, Libya had pushed the horrible disasters in Japan from the top spot. And it pushed it away, because there is so much at stake. After… No. Besides Afghanistan and Irak, we are at yet another war. There is an UN solution. Gaddafi is fighting his own people. Are we hunting down a bad leader? Mohammad Nabbous, the face of Libyan citizen journalism, was killed in a firefight the night before.

Can there be a just war? Can bombs bring democracy? I debated with my friend A later on what is going on, before we went out. While I had the feeling, that we engage here for other reasons than civilians in danger, she is supportive for it. She said that we need to learn to take responsibility, and that this is a step. She answered my question, why Libya and not Syria or Jemen. This is a start, she said. We both agreed, however, this is no reason for this kind of reporting.

There is a difference between reporting the war, and being at war. Thank god, there have been reflective voices, the nice considerate live drawing of Patrick Blower at the Guardian, the excellent opinion piece of Andrew Rawnsly from The Observer, or this slide show of the NYTimes also showing the wounded. But in general, our reporting way to close. It propagates the war. It hurts.

When is a picture to good? Shall we make war look like a fantastic action thriller? Reporting the matériel battle is scrupulously precise. We need to be careful not to become too live, and too detailed. When does transparency turn into blind fascination? As journalists we are part of the war, and will always be. But this is awful.