Friday, November 11, 2005

Picture this

Hong Kong Chinese-language newspapers, such as the Apple Daily and The Sun, have a tendency to reproduce the most shocking pictures on the front page to attract readers. Blatantly displayed on the newsstands are graphic aftermath pictures of car crashes and other disasters, often with a specially blown up portion showing the severed hand, pool of blood or chopping knife in question (the weapon of choice in Asia: victims are generally “chopped”, not stabbed). The Apple Daily had a series on how people committed suicide - an undeniably fascinating topic for Hong Kong, which has an unusually high suicide rate (the top two methods being (1) charcoal burning in a sealed off room and (2) jumping from a very tall building), but not an appropriate subject for a full-colour illustrated guide.

Today’s South China Morning Post has a picture on the front cover of three dead bodies lying in the street in Amman after the bombings on Wednesday. I strongly object to the news values which suggest that it’s acceptable to have pictures of bodies on the front page, but at least the Apple Daily and The Sun are even-handed: they’ll show anyone’s dead body. There’s no way the South China would have shown pictures of dead westerners - which is corroborated by the absence of any such pictures following recent bomb attacks which have killed westerners, in Bali and elsewhere.

Lest it seem as though I have some sort of vendetta against the South China -- well, okay --

Marshall McLuhan said “people don't read newspapers, they slip into them like a warm bath”. One thing I miss from the UK is reading a really good quality newspaper every day. Of course Marshall meant this as a criticism: we’re unthinkingly reading the paper to have our prejudices confirmed. Unfortunately the poor old South China confirms all my prejudices, and not in a good way.

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