The Independent Covers
Mounted diptych of The Independent newspaper covers: 5 October 2014 & 27 February 2015
Collaboration and performative lecture with Shela Sheikh
Article 13 of the Geneva Convention states” that prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity”. This is the Article that prohibits States from trafficking in images of prisoners that can be used for propagandistic purposes or could exploit their misery for salacious reasons such as selling newspapers, although the Article’s legal interpretation has been widely disputed as to who and what technically constitutes a State actor. For example, Al Jazeera’s decision to release photos of US soldiers killed in Iraq in 2003 prior to their families being informed was hugely controversial whereas the publication of images of Guantanamo Bay inmates by the US was deemed permissible and even in national security interests because the prisoners’ legal classification as “illegal enemy combatants” didn’t offer them the same protection accorded to prisoners of war. (see Howard Tumber and Jerry Palmer, Media at War: The Iraq Crisis, 2004).
With the 2014 killing of British aid worker Alan Henning, the UK government even went so far as to suggest that very act of watching the Islamic State execution video could be deemed a criminal act punishable under law. On October 5th The Independent ran a cover with a black square designating an unimaginable image with the caption “On Friday a decent, caring human being was murdered in cold blood. Our thoughts are with his family. He was killed, on camera, for the sole purpose of propaganda. Here is the news, not the propaganda.” In attributing extraordinary moral powers of persuasion to images, Article 13 confirms the consequential nature of images as potential instruments of political violence such that their production and circulation must be closely monitored by the State. Certain kinds of images are considered so morally reprehensible that they must barred or be withdrawn from domestic circulation and even have legal sanction to ensure their media blackout whereas others such as The Independent’s cover run several months later that “unmasked” Jihadi John circulated widely.