Millions are watching Saddam die. Should they?

Mobile phone video of Saddam Hussein’s execution has brought to the fore on the first day on 2007 the debate about how far availability on the internet should influence what is shown by mainstream media.

Writing in the Guardian about coverage of the execution on CNN and Fox News, Dan Glaister said :

But neither could keep up with the news. And the debate about the niceties of showing the stark images of death had already been taken out of the western media’s hands.

Like so much footage shot on the ubiquitous mobile phone, from acts of police brutality to misbehaving politicians, the raw information had circumvented the traditional instruments of control.

Most broadcasters have used some footage from the video which does not show the actual moment of death but has two shots of the dead Saddam with the noose still around his neck (one of them was used across the Guardian’s front page). The BBC showed the build-up but not the aftermath.

These arguments of taste have been rehearsed previously with videos of terrorist assasinations which have been shown in edited form by middle-eastern and western TV stations. The unedited versions have been available on small sites and needed some effort to find them.

This time the unedited version is available on huge new media sites which are effectively in competition with mainstream media. And it has been pulling in a huge audience.

A few minutes ago Google video was saying the camera phone video had been watched 884,657 times, Revver’s count was 182,115 and on You Tube it was restricted to registered users. The Anwarweb.net site from which many copies seem to have come was closed because of excess use of bandwidth. Saddam and his hanging was number 1,2, 3 and 6 on Technorati’s “most searched for” list.

This puts the self-censorship on the grounds of taste, which has long been a part of MSM, under extreme pressure. If people are going to get content from Google and others, why should it not also be available from traditional newspapers and broadcasters?

The counter argument is one of brand identity and trust. MSM is defined by editorial judgements which include whether it is right to show something which is likely to be offensive to some of the audience. There is also the question of appropriateness of material within the context of the whole story.

Google, YouTube and Revver provide no context and there lies another danger. How many are seeking out this video because they feel they are being deprived of an important part of the story and how many just want to watch a snuff movie?

Looking for a British site showing this video I came across a most unpleasant page called “beheading videos”. Part of a “disclaimer” reads: “We have not made this page to shock, but to inform you. Our main stream media networks are just the governments bitches. 90 percent of people believe all the shit in the papers. But an awful lot of stuff goes unreported. The videos/links are provided for informational purposes. To further discussion about thier authenticity (or the lack there of). We firmly believe that people should have the right to see the world as it is. Some places have censored these videos. We feel this hinders our ability to maintain a free society. We are behind our troops 100%, but Tony Blair must think we are a buntch of cunts.” An animated graphic repeated down both sides of the page is of a severed head from which blood is exploding.

This page is hidden — I found it via a Technorati link — behind a site devoted to magic mushrooms and cannabis. The caption to the video says: “Saddam Hussein’s neck appears to of snapped nice.”

When I find a nutty fringe site like this I usually remember there have always been such people around and pass on: when I find one putting out the same content as YouTube I get very worried.

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