Blood, violence, sex; give it to me neat or don’t give it at all, because a half-truth is more dangerous than a blatant lie.

 

It is undoubtable, as we are constantly told, that we now live in the ‘information age’. With a click of a button or the swipe of a finger, we can now access, share and follow more stories, content and information from across the world than previous generations could have ever imagined.

However, as the age-old maxim goes, with great power comes great responsibility and as we continue in our race to becoming an all-knowing, all-seeing population, we have also become part of an extremely divisive and important debate. The question is: should the information and media which we consume so readily be censored and vetted when it comes to violent and graphic content?

As is often the case, this debate is rarely black and white. Of course, certain forms of censorship are ostensibly necessary; for example, the use of a television watershed and various forms of film classifications to avoid unsuitable content being easily accessed by children. However, when it comes to news outlets and the mass media, all targeting a more mature audience, is such a policy really suitable?

We now seemingly live in an increasingly more violent world, with perpetual and impossible conflicts raging everywhere from the Middle East to the streets of our own country, as well as those of the US. The Guardian’s The Counted organisation, a relatively new project dedicated to officially counting the number of people killed by police in the US, has recently reported 872 victims of police killings, whilst thousands of miles away children and innocent people are continually bombed out of existence in the name of foreign policy.

And yet, though we are aware of what is occurring, are we ever truly shown the extent of such events? Are we ever truly aware of, and empathetic to, the effects that they have on those involved? As a British citizen born and raised in a time of relative stability, I’d argue that I’m far from being truly aware of or empathetic to these world happenings. And censorship is to blame.

In August of last year, two journalists working for a local US news organisation, WDBJ were shot and killed on camera whilst reporting and filming a segment on the anniversary of the building of a local man-made lake. Not only were the deaths caught on the footage filmed by the news crew themselves, but they were also filmed by the attacker on his smart phone.

As news of this attack broke, both domestic and international broadcasters rushed to report on it, many using the footage obtained from the news crew in their coverage. However, rather than recognising this latest incident as further evidence against the US’ failing gun control policy — a policy that allowed a man with a diverse history of mental illness to legally obtain a concealable firearm — many viewers instead took to social media to attack the use of the footage. Consequently, many organisations withdrew the footage, along with that taken by the gunman himself, from their reports on the attacks, again leaving it to the presenters to verbally recount a less offensive and ‘more suitable’ account of the events.

With stories such as these, it is often difficult to justify the use of such footage. After all, it is undeniably heartbreaking for the families of the victims to have to relive that tragic day via their television sets and smart phones. And yet, is it not more important to give the public a first-hand account of how their government’s policies are directly leading to the deaths of innocent people?

Perhaps closer to home for some is the current humanitarian crisis occurring across Europe, with the mass migration of hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian asylum seekers. Again, although the majority of us are aware of what is occurring, are we truly aware of the gravity of the situation? Similar to the footage of the WDBJ shootings, many major media outlets were condemned for publishing a particularly upsetting photo of a drowned infant refugee Aylan Kurdi. However, despite some claiming the use of the image was ‘crass’ and ‘narcissistic’, we could surely use this as evidence in favour of an uncensored media. With the aid of such a powerful depiction, showing the true plight of those seeking refuge, many took to both the internet and the streets to show their support and solidarity.

Such unequivocal and raw images allow us to understand the true nature of the world in which we live. It is through such graphic content that mass protests and movements against atrocities can stir — such as those seen during the US’ invasion of Vietnam, which were famously sparked by the distressing work of war-time photographers such as Nick Ut.

Graphic content may be harrowing and it may be hard to swallow, but without it we would not only be unaware of the reality of the world we live in, but we would also be swallowing a far more dangerous and damaging lie: that that same world is not in need of change.

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