Conspiracy to desensitise?

8 03 2012

I was watching the channel4 news this evening on the deaths of 6 soldiers in Afghanistan. The reporter felt it necessary to abbreviate the weapon that killed them to IED and it really made me think of the use of military language in the media. Now I know what IED stands for, and that in itself shocked me. For those who are unaware, IED means  Improvised Explosive Device or ‘bomb’ in laymans terms. I’m all for accuracy of reporting of incidents but I do feel that when a pacifist such as myself becomes au fait with military abbreviations for killing technology and terminology in everyday language, that we have a problem.

Do we really need to use the same terminology as professional killers? We don’t use medical jargon in everyday media, if someone has a heart attack, its reported as a heart attack not a myocardial infarction or MI. If someone goes bankrupt we rarely see reference to sequestration. A heart attack or bankruptcy is far more likely to affect the lives of media consumers directly and you’d expect them to understand an MI or sequestration before the abbreviation IED. A very brief online survey revealed most people had to google a definition of MI but not IED.

A decent conspiracy theorist would start to wonder if this wasn’t perhaps another collusion between the government and the media to desensitise or even normalise Britain at war. Lets not forget the Great Wars of the 20th Century that brought us together as a nation, we too can once again be like that with a bit of manipulation. With the growth in unemployment, we could use another big war to kill off a few tens of thousands of the population, TADA! unemployment problem solved.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist and prefer to take a naive approach but one thing is for certain, we are definitely desensitised and accepting of graphic images of violence and death in the media. Regardless of the reason, it has been normalised for today’s society.

Now a few people on twitter put forward alternative views of using militarised language in the mainstream media. One suggested that perhaps the media used the language of the troops as a mark of respect.  This was an interesting concept but it didn’t really wash with me. I thought it worth highlighting this however, as different people will take different things from the language being used in the news. Another suggested that perhaps an ever knowledgeable audience demands such realities to be more involved in War or to stop casual attitudes to wars in distant lands. He suggested the audience allows the media to desensitise them and that they crave the graphic experiences. The media in return want to shock the general public and to push the boundaries of acceptability for attention and audience share.

This discussion on audience demands reminded me of being a journalism student at 18, and the latest outcry and campaign by the great and the good on the increasing sights of graphic violence and death, on the pre-watershed news. We debated the inclusion of features, where violence and war were the main interest on mainstream news and in mainstream newspapers, especially where children had easy access to them. General consensus was (naively) that parents could shield their children from such sights if they wished. Back then blood and dead bodies were rarely seen on television and never on front pages of newspapers. Today, its common place to see on breakfast, lunch and dinner grieving parents cradling the bodies of their murdered toddlers, random bodyparts lying in the middle of bomb struck streets and blood drenched everything in sight. Dead and mutilated bodies make the front page of newspapers displayed at toddlers head height. It’s hard to protect a child from such images when they are everywhere you turn. Who can forget the Gaddafi dead front page pictures and subsequent outrage.

Another twitter user highlighted that when we don’t have such graphic scenes available, we are reveling in the grief of friends and relatives for our own sordid entertainment. Entertainment may seem a strange choice of word but it does seem oddly fitting.

It was also suggested that perhaps the reporters are so close to the situations themselves that they report in the same language they use when talking with the soldiers. While this is entirely plausible, it breaks rule number one on day one of journalism school; always present the information in an accessible manner. I and many others were taught, if a journalist reverts to possibly complex technical jargon mid-report then they are failing their audience. This went on to a statement (my words paraphrasing his) that perhaps people should stick to the media that suits their intellectual abilities, highlighting the Sun is not the Guardian. As a Guardian reader, this degree of media snobbery does not sit well with me. As an ex-journalist, the exclusion of audience based on their subjective understandings of media is wrong. Accessibility was always the key to good reporting. Jargon does not make an article better than one without, it merely makes it exclusionary to those who may not be party to it.

We have brought militarised language into the mainstream and I am saddened to hear people defend it.  Perhaps I am alone in worrying about the prevalence of military jargon in the media and in time, everyday language. As far as I’m concerned that worry is no bad thing.






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