The Listening Post

Covering the CIA torture report

Examining the media coverage of the CIA torture report release; plus, the ethics of graphic imagery in the news media.

It has been an interesting week on The Listening Post production desk. Having agreed on a different story at the beginning of the week, it became clear fairly quickly that the biggest story to break this week was the release of the CIA Torture Report.

We did not know whether the report would actually be released because there has been numerous attempts at publication. But this time it was for real. It has taken the US Senate five years, $40m and a number of backtracks, but on December 9, the world learnt the extent to which the CIA used torture on terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

It was a damning 500-page report that confirmed that the CIA lied to its political overseers and to the media. It also lied about what it did and the usefulness of the information it obtained. For the US mainstream media, this post-9/11 story has been a test of their own independence. Many have not scored very highly.

This story resonates well beyond Washington DC. Talking us through the media coverage of the release and where this story is going next is Peter Hart, from the US-based media watch group FAIR; Frank Sesno from George Washington University; Ali Watkins, the National Security reporter at Huffington Post  and veteran investigative journalist Gareth Porter.

Other news stories we are tracking this week: In Syria, the death toll of journalists covering the conflict continues to rise, as four journalists perish in one week; the African Court of Human Rights makes a landmark ruling in a criminal defamation case against a journalist from Burkina Faso which could have implications on media freedom across the continent; in Iran, the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post is formally charged but authorities have yet to reveal the specifics of those charges; and in neighbouring Azerbaijan, press freedom groups slam a decision by authorities to hold a critical, investigative journalist in pre-trial detention.

To see or not see, that is the question many news editors ask themselves when deciding what to put out to air. In the second half of the show we look at the debate on the ethics of graphic imagery in the news media. Over the past year, stories of war, epidemic and human suffering have hit the headlines so relentlessly that it has renewed the conversation about the value of the uncensored image in the act of storytelling. And that conversation has another layer to it, because today, social media has created another space in which anything goes – and that is putting pressure on the mainstream to compete – or censor – like in the case of the James Foley beheading. In this week’s feature, The Listening Post‘s Marcela Pizarro asks why graphic images matter.

Finally, since its invention almost 150 years ago, thermography has come to be used in medicine, astronomy, firefighting, weather forecasting – and night vision goggles. Our video of the week comes from Buzzfeed Blue. The producers had a simple concept: point a thermographic camera at a human being and let the pictures tell a story of how we blow hot and cold, depending on what we’re up to. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.