Friday, 29 August 2014

Silencing the Discourse on Violence

In the wake of the murder of journalist, James Foley, the British Metropolitan Police warned that those who shared the video of his execution would be at risk of prosecution. While the statement is considered to be primarily aimed at those who seek to glamorise or promote extremist violence, the alarmist nature of the statement is concerning for for those involved in the discourse and analysis of violence. The threat of prosecution, left unqualified by the Police was questioned by a number of journalists and lawyers, including legal commentator for the Financial Times, David Allen Green.

In the construction and interpretation of the law, clarity and transparency is necessary. Statements like that of the British police force impinge on the capacity of journalists and society generally to access the information that help them gain a greater understanding of the world around them. As a blog that has analyzed and attempted to deconstruct issues relating to violence in the past, the need for press freedom and access to the imagery and other media related to conflict is essential. Otherwise, the realities of these situations is left uncommunicated.

The role of the media is to assess and provide perspective on socially important issues and the foreign policy of powerful nations is one of these. The front page of the Sunday Times' News Review on the 10th of August published an essay by Prince Harry on his time in Afghanistan. Prince Harry had recently established a sports event for soldiers who had lost limbs fighting in Afghanistan called 'Invictus'. He said 'Loss of life is as tragic and devastating as it gets, but to see young lads - much younger than me - wrapped in plastic and missing limbs, with hundreds of tubes coming out of them, was something I never prepared myself for.'

Prince Harry participated in the war in Afghanistan as an Apache attack-helicopter pilot, which provides close air support for ground troops by way of missiles and explosive bullets. The Sunday Times facilitated his demonstration of his lack of understanding of the impact of his actions and gave the reader an opportunity to assess the power of indoctrination into a singular way of thinking. Prince Harry appeared self-absorbed and unaware of the implications of his actions.

The free media provides a way for people to express themselves and for others to examine them. The film 'Collateral Murder', published by Wikileaks, contained footage shot from an attack-helicopter's imaging device during an attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which over ten men died, two Reuters journalists were killed and two children were struck by machine gun rounds. The world was provided with an opportunity to see the procedure used by American forces when attacking groups in urban areas. By providing access to the rules of engagement in use by US soldiers, Wikileaks and those who shared the video were in many ways engaging in the same activity that the British Metropolitan Police Force would describe as illegal under Terrorism legislation.

If the media are unable to share and critically analyse the actions of those who participate in conflict, it becomes more difficult to provide alternative narratives to a state representative's perspective. When the media become at risk of prosecution or any form of non-state violence for sharing arguments and media that counter a dominant agenda, the capacity to inform and reflect is damaged and limits our ability to improve the world we live in. The death of James Foley and other journalists such as Austin Tice, who have paid the most extreme price for attempting to document conflict, only highlight the absolute need to protect and encourage a free media.