TV reaches new low in Saddam coverage

Our television news coverage at the end of 2006 was dominated by the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The way in which the images of Saddam’s execution were aired reveal much about our political and television culture and about modern forms of propaganda. First there was the the professional, edited version of the execution (the image of the noose being passed over Saddam’s neck, swiftly followed by the image of the former dictator’s corpse); then there was the «sequel» – namely the amateur video filmed using a mobile telephone and initially circulated on the Internet. This version was more raw, less stylized. The really hair-raising aspect was the details (which were not shown by all TV channels), but equally shocking was the ease with which certain news bulletins tried to scrutinize the final moments of a man’s life as one might analyze a soccer match. «Witnesses said that (Saddam) was bold but also a little bit frightened,» a reporter for state channel NET said during on the station’s Saturday evening news bulletin. What witnesses? The hooded executioners shown in the footage? It seems that there are no limitations in the world of news reporting – even the execution chamber is open to probing microphones. Some private channels described Saddam’s frightened expression, while others assured us that there was no trace of spit around the dead man’s mouth. Evidently these pieces of information have come from the same source. But the next day original reports about Saddam’s fearfulness were abandoned in favor of a new video showing his executioners cursing him. Alpha channel’s experienced journalist Nikos Hadzinikolaou described the aforementioned «witnesses» as «torturers.» Even the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro uses the pejorative «bourreaux» or «hangmen.» There was also sensationalism in the news headlines. «Hanging ends an era,» exclaimed Alpha channel. Mega channel went a bit further with «Noose made in the USA» and «Humiliating death for Saddam,» while Antenna accompanied its coverage with a dramatic soundtrack. The dilemma faced by many channels in Greece and other countries was whether to show the disturbing images of Saddam’s hanging or not. However, it is not only important what one broadcasts but the commentary one attaches to these images. The use of words, pauses and even the use of light and darkness reveal as much about the commentator as the subject. Showing respect toward a man about to die is not tantamount to exoneration of Saddam’s deeds, which, incidentally, were carried out when the former Iraqi leader was on good terms with the USA. Meanwhile, those currently enjoying US favor, the current Iraqi leaders, have shown the world the quality of their imported democracy.

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