Sunday, November 13, 2005

Censoring the riots: The willful ignorance of the French

An interesting piece from The Guardian:

One of France's leading TV news executives has admitted censoring his coverage of the riots in the country for fear of encouraging support for far-right politicians.

Jean-Claude Dassier, the director general of the rolling news service LCI, said the prominence given to the rioters on international news networks had been "excessive" and could even be fanning the flames of the violence.

Mr Dassier said his own channel, which is owned by the private broadcaster TF1, recently decided not to show footage of burning cars.

"Politics in France is heading to the right and I don't want rightwing politicians back in second, or even first place because we showed burning cars on television," Mr Dassier told an audience of broadcasters at the News Xchange conference in Amsterdam today.

"Having satellites trained on towns across France 24 hours a day showing the violence would have been wrong and totally disproportionate... Journalism is not simply a matter of switching on the cameras and letting them roll. You have to think about what you're broadcasting," he said.

Hmmm. Well, yes, journalists and media outlets do need to be responsible, and there may very well be certain things that shouldn't be shown unedited on television, and the resurgence of the right in French politics may be a bad thing (a very bad thing, I would say), but the French people should know what's going on. (As a parallel, think what it would have been like if Americans hadn't been able to see the images of New Orleans after Katrina?)

After all, the riots stem in part from the fact that the French haven't adequately integrated their immigrant communities into mainstream society. France is a diverse country that doesn't seem to deal effectively with its diversity, a country where certain communities live in veritable ghettos and remain largely invisible. To an extent, the rioters are rioting precisely against that invisibility. They want to be visible, they want to integrate into French society, they want to partake of all that France (and the West generally) has to offer.

Televising burning cars and decontextualized images of rioting should only be part of the coverage, of course, but censoring those images, that is, refusing even to show them, only fuels the willful ignorance that has propelled France into this situation. If France is to deal with the root causes of the rioting, it must at least acknowledge the full scope of the rioting. And that means uncensoring the coverage of the rioting in the media.


It means being responsible in a real way.

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