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Spectacular ethics: On the television footage of the Iraq war

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This article argues that the BBC World footage of the bombardment of Baghdad, March–April 2003, manages to take sides in the controversy over the Iraq war, without violating the principle of objectivity — a principle necessary for the credibility of public service broadcasting. Making use of the ‘analytics of mediation’, I show that the semiotic choices of this footage construe the bombardment of Baghdad in a regime of pity, whereby the aesthetic quality of the spectacle effaces the presence of Iraqi people as human beings and sidelines the question of the coalition troops identity either as benefactors or bombers. This combination is instrumental in aestheticising the horror of war at the expense of raising issues around the legitimacy and effects of the war. The taking of sides in the BBC ‘update’ occurs precisely through this aestheticised representation of warfare that denies the sufferer her humanity and relieves the bomber of his responsibility in inflicting the suffering. By rendering these identities irrelevant to the spectacle of the suffering, the footage ultimately suppresses the emotional, ethical and political issues that lie behind the bombardment of Baghdad.

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