Wait! Before you turn the page violently in disgust, let me explain!
As a journalist, I have thought about this issue of violence on TV for many, many years.
I wasn’t ready to write about it just yet, but now that the SABC has decided to ban protest violence from its channels, I reckon a deeper perspective is necessary.
The public broadcaster will no longer be showing images of people burning down schools, colleges and government buildings. I am not a fan of the SABC’s new boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng, but I think he may just have a point when he says the SABC “…will not help these individuals push their agenda that seeks media attention.”
There’s an old saying that violence begets violence and I think that also means that by showing violence on TV, we are teaching others that showing dissatisfaction violently is OK.
If you pay close attention to the news, then you will notice how violence happens in groups. You’ll hear about a violent protest somewhere and then suddenly you’ll hear about many more, one after the other. Or there’ll be a child rape, which is suddenly followed by another, then another. And we then wonder what’s going on!
Well, those of us who think about the psychology of mass communication very deeply, believe that news stories don’t merely report on events, but unintentionally also encourage them.
In other words, when someone who is already a little sick in the head hears a story about a child having been raped, then he may feel that it’s OK for him to also do it. And trust me, there are many sick people among us. I believe the same goes for good-for-nothing people who want to get their names and pictures into the newspapers and onto TV.
Even Facebook realised this last week, when it reconsidered a decision to allow a video of a woman being beheaded in Mexico. Facebook withdraw the decision and banned the gory video. It’s always tough to decide between telling the whole true story for public interests, and glorifying violence.
What all of this also means is that the opposite is also true.
If the SABC shows more examples of love, reason, compassion and peacefulness, then there should be more of it in society. But this doesn’t mean those nasty things disappear in real life. And that’s ultimately the problem and the concern from journalists and those who criticise the SABC’s decision. By not showing us the truth, the SABC may be creating the illusion of a utopia, when we are in fact at the edge of civil war.
But I do believe that most people who perpetrate violence, do so especially when there’s a TV camera around and there’s a chance they will be on TV tonight. Remove that incentive and we should see less violence in society.
Of course this is an isolated argument that does not consider all the other factors behind violence. The biggest reason will always be disempowerment, but I believe this is one of the contributing factors that we can tackle with relative ease.
Besides, destroying government property is stupidly short-sighted. As Motsoeneng says: “… protest peacefully without destroying the very same institutions that are needed to restore dignity.”