In these times of creeping government interference and corporate censorship, it’s worth reflecting on the depiction of war in the media.
Of course, there are good reasons why some aspects of wars are censored. We would not want or expect the safety of combatants to be compromised.
But what if it had been somehow possible to livestream the landing at Gallipoli back home in 1915 without the heavy handed booster-ism of the newsreels? What if people at home could have witnessed the slaughter that occurred when young soldiers were ordered to jump out of their trenches and run towards machine guns at The Nek?
You would expect that the terrible tactics would have been shelved rather than transported to the killing grounds of Western Europe. It might have saved thousands of young lives.
There are good reasons why we should be allowed to see terrible things.
It was the news coverage of some of the horrible events in Vietnam that turned public sentiment on that war; photographs from Abu Ghraib that curbed abuse of prisoners in Iraq; footage of the beating of Rodney King that turned attention to police brutality in the United States.
Very recently, we saw a Victorian police officer appearing to strike a handcuffed 15 year-old girl who had been peacefully protesting at a 420 rally here in Melbourne.
These events were and are still disturbing. Nobody wants to see them – but if we are to correct injustice, we need to be able to see injustice. You can’t oppose what you don’t expose. Censorship would only have allowed these things to continue.
Now we hear Facebook is being asked to prevent livestreaming of unpleasant events on their platform. Apart from this being impossible without shutting the whole system down, is it desirable? And who is to judge?
Anyone who wants to see disturbing content, or pretty much anything else they want to see, can find it on the internet. I don’t recommend seeking it out, but you can find video content of people being killed in a range of ways on any number of websites. This kind of material has now been available for years.
ISIS released some of the most abhorrent visual material possible, revealing themselves to be a scourge that needed to be strongly opposed.
It turns out that people are far more resilient and discerning than some would have you believe. Most of us choose not to view abhorrent material, and those who do, are capable of processing this kind of information without being scarred for life. In fact, those of us who see reprehensible things are far more likely to be repelled.
Unfortunately, every time there is a terrible event – as in Christchurch – moral panic ensues. The authoritarians then move in calling for new censorious laws or moves that treat us all like children.
Facebook have reportedly decided to ban people who show support for white nationalism and separatism on their platform.
As a private company, Facebook are entitled to do this – but they have created the classic dilemma of the censor – who decides what is acceptable?
Censorship like this means the public is denied the chance to subject bad ideas to scrutiny. We can’t argue against ideas that we can’t hear or terrible things we can’t see. Pushing bad ideas into the shadows doesn’t remove them from our society and allows them to fester and grow.
If our new moral guardians have their way, we will all soon be getting our information from the dark web.
David Limbrick is the Liberal Democrats MP for Victoria’s South East Metropolitan region