Yesterday BBC World showed gruesome footage of the violence in Zimbabwe ahead of the presidential runoff. The picture of a man whose right ear had been freshly chopped off in a style reminiscent of that used by Ugandan terrorist rebel leader Joseph Kony of Lord’s Resistance Army, run alongside the victim’s sworn message that nothing would deter him from voting for his opposition party.
Election officials in that country announced over three weeks ago that a repeat of the election will take place on June 27, nearly three months after the first round failed to give majority lead to one contestant.
President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF came second in the original contest, but their superior opponents, Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai, was said to have come just short of the required majority to be handed the mandate to govern the long suffering southern Africa nation.
Such pictures quite often pose a dilemma for the media; they appear so horrifying that fellow MDC supporters viewing them will think twice before going out to vote.
But on the other hand, not showing them to inform the world about the extent of the violence in that once peaceful country is to stand by and watch indifferently.
During the post presidential election violence in Kenya, accusations of insensitivity were levelled against the foreign media, television in particular, pointing out that live screening of events as they occurred fell on the wrong side of the human touch.
The argument on showing human calamity as it evolves vis-à-vis editing it to especially conform to what the eyes and feelings of the victims’ relatives can bear is a debate which can go on until the chicken come to roost.
However, in a grave situation like Zimbabwe’s where politico-economic circumstances have seen its neighbours and the African Union as a whole develop cold feet whenever intervention is contemplated, television exposure comes in handy.