A great number of regimes throughout the world must curse the day that moving pictures came into being. (No, Virginia, moving statues are a totally different issue.)
Think about it. In 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising was celebrated, and a key feature of RTÉ’s coverage was the interviewing of people who had lived through and often participated in the Rising and subsequent events. There are unionists who see that coverage as having been the midwife to the Civil Rights campaign that began a year later, to be followed by three decades of violence.
The Civil Rights campaign got huge support following October 5, 1968 in Derry, when RTÉ cameras filmed the RUC batoning the protestors. The world watched in disbelief and horror.
The Troubles themselves were covered comprehensively by television. The ban on Sinn Féin speaking on the airwaves – in the UK or in the south of Ireland -was made ludicrous when actors were hired to mouth the words of people like Gerry Adams . The ban itself was testimony to the power of the camera lens.
And today we have reports – and pictures – of the burning of a police station in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This followed the death of a black man, George Floyd, after brutal police treatment. The indignation and rage of black – and white – people came directly from a phone video of a policeman with his knee planted for five minutes in Floyd’s neck while he repeatedly gasps that he can’t breathe.
News of horrible cruelty is always upsetting. But the filmed element brings that cruelty to distressing life, helps us identify with those suffering. No wonder, in a revolution, the first place the victors head for is the TV station.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where your sympathies lie, capturing the TV station is no longer enough. Anyone with a phone can now become a camera reporter. George Floyd would be just another black death had it not been for the image of his head being pressed into the ground as he begs to be released. That sticks in our minds and sickens our souls. Minneapolis will be lucky if it gets away with no more than a burning police station.