Television news happens right in front of us. But is that what really happened? Is it a true picture or only a violent incident? Would it have happened at all if the video cameras had not been there?…
…However carefully chosen, the words of a television reporter or documentary maker, can never properly qualify a spectacular picture; and however discriminating the apportionment of stories in a television program, they are in length nearly the same. Incidents are usually in the open; the whole of an event, often obscure and private. Not only is the core of television the public and the spectacular, but there is an important sense in which television has vested interest in disaster and suffering. Imagery, the merchandising of images lends itself to what will be the most colorful and exciting viewing. Which means violence. The question of how to deal with violence is the most important one confronting the medium. Violence is movement, and movement is what television and film cannot help emphasizing. In the coverage of violence, there is a sort of conspiration to intensify both the special problems and the special temptations to which it is exposed. The limitation of time means concentration to the point of distortion, a concentration on violent incidents to the exclusion of the whole event in its wider contexts. The implicit conclusion is that violence is automatic and self-reinforcing.
There is also the camera’s tendency to produce self-generating news. Camera operators looking for trouble and the crowds beginning to play up to them as the rioting and disturbances in Egypt made evident. Television and the camera, merely by its presence, helps to create incidents and then itself remains part of the happening. In this sense, a newspaper’s bias or dishonesty is less dangerous and provocative than a television reporter. The print media need only create, or exaggerate a story in their own mind. However, the television reporter must create or exaggerate it in actuality: they must make it a happening.
Finally, in the matter of violence, there is the size of the screen and the temptations it offers which translates into some very unbalanced distortions. What all this amounts to is that the viewing public usually goes through each day without either meeting or themselves displaying violence becomes less real to them than the violence on the scree they are exposed to. It is the imaginary “real” presence of television or film in people’s living rooms which is the background to the whole problem. Surely much of the feeling of living in a condition of perpetual crisis, of existential crisis, and the anxiety and trauma arising from it, comes from a sense of being a witness to a world which is more actual than the routine world in which one lives. The potental obviously, is that television can create, not only events out of incidents, but movements and people.