Dateline‘s
Abu
Ghraib story is the biggest international scoop by an Australian media
organisation for a long time. The story has spread like wildfire around
the world, with the footage and photos running across Middle Eastern
and Western TV stations and front pages worldwide. And the current
affairs program has come under direct fire from the Bush administration
as it criticised the program’s decision to run the images.

This isn’t the first timeDateline has
hit world headlines; last October it broadcast images of US soldiers
burning the corpses of two Taliban fighters. So did they anticipate
such a massive worldwide reaction? “No, we didn’t to be honest,” Dateline‘s
Executive Producer Mike Carey told Crikey. “It’s an extraordinary
response. It’s gone everywhere. We’re getting calls and emails from as
far away as Hungary and Latin America, all over the world really.”

“We
didn’t envisage that it would be like this,” says Carey. “We can’t have
it both ways, we can’t say that we didn’t expect it to be as big as
this and then” be accused of doing it for the publicity. “I didn’t
think it would create the same impact [as last time]. All we were
concerned with was making sure that what we were doing was the right
thing to do.”

“We had hesitations over some of the images on
the grounds of taste,” such as the sexually explicit material, says
Carey, but “the thing that really convinced us was the images of
corpses…There are so many unanswered questions that we had a
responsibility to show them, because of the level of depravity and
unexplained questions. Surely these things should be addressed.”

So how does Dateline respond to the fact that respected news outlets like The Washington Post
have decided not to run the images? That’s just “gutless,” says Carey.
“We do understand that some US magazines had the photos and have been
sitting on them which I put down to self censorship.”

Meanwhile, US website Salon has posted more previously unpublished images from Abu Ghraib, along with an explanation as to why they did it. Poynter Online runs a series of questions that news outlets need to ask themselves before running the images, and The Guardian asks if the Abu Ghraib footage and photos are newsworthy or just gratuitous?

Peter Fray

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