From the other side of the pond comes the following comments about the images presented - and watched - on television news programs, on any given day.
The comments come from Brian at Thought Experiments: The Blog, which I discovered a couple of years ago through my Philadelphia e-friend Frank at Books, Inq.: The Epilogue.
"Watching the news last night, the inevitable harrowing scenes from the Irrawaddy Delta and Sechuan were abundantly on display," Brian wrote earlier this week, under the heading Ethical Voyeurism and Selective Squeamishness. "In China, we watched a dying man making a last phone call to his wife as he lay crushed under a huge block of concrete. In Burma, we saw a grief-stricken family watching as their patriarch died."
"What purpose does such footage serve? There is nothing we might be spurred to do about either situation which would be of any use - the earthquake response has been, apparently, efficient and concerted and there is little chance of anyone more being found alive, while in Burma the military junta (despite 'Lord' Malloch Brown's optimistic snap judgment) continues to prevent serious aid getting to where it's needed."
"Is this intrusive footage anything more than a kind of 'humane', ethical voyeurism? The news crews' intrusiveness into private grief is apparently deemed quite permissible with people in faraway places who are 'not like us' - such footage of a homegrown disaster would not be shown."
Good questions ..... unfortunately, Brian does not go on to provide good answers. Also, I disagree on some points - I have over the years produced and consumed plenty of images from what he calls "homegrown disasters" ..... and fielded the complaints from those who objected. It is at THIS point that I have observed "selective squeamishness" - most of the complaints stem from a close attachment to the subject. Far less complaints come from a general, on-principal, regardless-of-who's-shown source.
I also disagree with Brian about whether presenting such images serves a purpose ..... they do. We have heard - and said - many, many times that 'one picture is worth a thousand words.' That old saying has been proven true to me on countless occasions, where a single image conveyed the depth and the scope of a tragedy far better than any text I could write.
Still, Brian's comments DO offer some good discussion points for news producers ..... and news consumers, too.