Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sky News UK shuts down journalist for trying to show Charlie Hebdo image

Those of us with libertarian/small government leanings have tended to think of Sky News more positively than other UK television news outlets.  The "pay the TV licence or be prosecuted" BBC has long had a reputation for being statist and left-leaning, and state-owned, but commercial Channel 4 is not much better.  ITV News has tended to be less that way. However, Sky News was always thought as being a bit more (if less well resourced) towards the so-called "right", and more challenging of the "what's the Government going to do about it.." narrative that is the default for interviews from so many other journalists.

No more.  Whilst the BBC chose to briefly show the cover of the Charlie Hebdo commemorative edition this week on its 10.30pm Newsnight programme, Sky News (as a rolling news channel) has repeatedly stated that it has made an editorial decision to not show the image on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, seen on the right here.  
Of course Sky News, as a privately owned, commercial broadcaster, has every right to make editorial decisions to not show content if it so wishes.  In the grand Voltairean tradition, I respect and would wholeheartedly defend this right, even if, as I do in this case, vehemently oppose the decision itself.  

However, what happened yesterday evening (Wednesday 14 January) on Sky News was rather more disturbing and offensive, as it consisted of shutting down the interview and the attempt by a French journalist Caroline Fourest.  It had shades of an embarrassed state broadcaster under an authoritarian regime that suddenly had to switch from something embarrassing. The Guido Fawkes blog has the video which I repeat below

Caroline Fourest was displaying, quite correctly, the disappointment and barely veiled contempt for British journalists (as none of the national newspapers have printed the cover on their covers, a couple have printed versions as large as the one above) for not actually standing up for French journalism.  They say #JeSuisCharlie as a hashtag, but none have the courage of Charlie Hebdo.  

Furthermore, Sky News apologises for an "offence caused" by the split second showing of the image, but is completely uninterested in the offence caused to thousands of viewers who are not Islamists, because Sky News insults their intelligence or emotional stability in not being able to handle seeing it.

It is as if it equates showing the image with an endorsement of the content of the image, rather than showing the image in the context of the news item being discussed.   Sky News readily shows clips from ISIS or Al Qaeda videos, but nobody assumes it does this as an endorsement of what is being said.  Sky also regularly shows content that "some viewers may find distressing" or "offensive" involving corpses, the badly injured or distressed.  Real people suffering, which some call "war porn" or "disaster porn".  It isn't difficult to see why it is offensive to some to repeat video footage of the last moments of someone's life, but Sky does it, as it is part of a story with the implication that it should be stopped or relief provided to those suffering.

Yet Sky News has decided not to show the image at all, even with a warning.  Why?  Well Sky wont say,  but there are three most rational conclusions:

1.  Fear of reprisals:  If Sky News genuinely feared its staff would be targeted if it showed the image, then it should say so.  Would it imply that security is not sufficient to protect them?  Perhaps.  Would it imply that the Police have indicated they would not be responsible for protecting them?  If so, we should know this.  Would it indicate that media outlets in the UK may be self-censoring because UK based Islamists are threatening and bullying them?  If so, we also should know this, because it indicates that the claims made by David Cameron that broadcasters should feel free to show or not show what they wish, within the law, as rather empty.  If our media feels at risk from offending Islamists, what next?  It means we are on a slippery slope and the Government's attention needs to shift from talk of passing new laws, to actively protecting those wishing to exercise free speech.

2. Empathy with the "offended":  The least likely, but most disturbing interpretation is that Sky News has  "agreed" the images of the Prophet Muhammed are offensive, and that it is more important to not offend a sub-set of Muslim viewers, than to not offend those who consider the self-censorship to be disgusting or childish.  In short, it would mean Sky News has taken the side of the Islamists, implying all Muslims would be offended, and their offence is worth more than mine.

3. It's not newsworthy: Sky News may have decided that the publication of Charlie Hebdo isn't important, against queues at hospital A & E, energy policy, prospective party leader debates on TV etc.  This would be just fine, there is a lot of news broadcasters don't cover because time is limited.  However, this isn't credible given  the extensive coverage given including correspondents in Paris and of course the offending interview with a French journalist. 

Of course there is a fourth conclusion, which I believe is the most likely.  A panicked, confused and kneejerk reaction has been made based on:

- Copying what other UK broadcasters and print media have done, as a default;
- Fear of reprisals expressed by some staff;
- Some commercial concern that by allowing the image to be shown, it would face viewer or even advertiser boycotts (which is dubious, indeed the opposite reaction could be true);
- A decision that SkyNews did not want to be "the news story itself" by being the only broadcaster in the UK to show it (even though half of UK households have access to multiple TV news channels from many countries, some of which have shown it).

Sky will, I suspect, stick to this line, unless a growing number of viewers and high profile figures demand it apologise for the offence caused by its self-censorship.

In one move Sky has:

- Offended non-Islamists who, as adults (and indeed children as well) can judge for themselves if the benign comic image above is offensive or not.  Instead Sky has judged for them;
- Offended Muslims who do not hold to the theological position that any drawing of Mohammed is offensive.  Sky has presumed to know best for them;
- Demonstrated that it is not, by any means, able to say Je Suis Charlie.  It does not uphold standards of journalistic freedom or courage.  

Notably, broadcaster Iain Dale on Sky News, as a regularly commentator in a review of the next day's newspapers, noted that Sky News is a large organisation, capable of defending itself, by contrast to the small independent newsagents around Britain and in France, who are stocking Charlie Hebdo, at some risk to their own lives and livelihoods.   Watch his response here:

Sky News has disgraced its reputation, has shown itself to be meek, timid and either easily intimidated, or simply appeasers of those who want Islamist blasphemy law to apply in the UK.

It doesn't show solidarity with journalists in France, or journalists that are anywhere taking on those who wish to kill them for reporting that which offends those who want power over our lives.  It shows a muddled, pablum like complacency, sitting with the mediocre, middle ground of "let's talk a lot about it, but don't rock the boat in case we get called names or threatened".

Let's be very clear.  Sky News has taken sides.

The side it has taken is not one against laws of blasphemy, it is not one against religions censoring that which they find offensive, it is not one of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, journalists who confront state or clerical censorship or threats of violence in doing their jobs.  It is not one with the vast majority of their viewers who are not Islamists, nor is it with those offended by the infantile treatment of a benign image.

It's not to side with freedom, an unalloyed defence of Western civilisation and the right for full, free and frank debate.  It's to side with fear, appeasement and to follow "the group", moreover it is, regardless of intent, to side with those who demand that Islamist definitions of blasphemy be followed in editorial decisions. 

and broadcasters wonder sometimes why they are losing audiences...

UPDATENick Cohen in the Spectator has another excellent take on this issue.


Jamie said...

Bunch of gutless wonders!!!

"BBC has long had a reputation for being statist and left-leaning, and state-owned" LS

You forgot kiddie fiddler

And are complicit in genocide

What's the penalty on that???


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