When does journalism veer into exploitation? It’s a tough question to answer, seeing as a significant part of reporting involves relaying traumatising information that has an overwhelming public interest. For example, a failure to publish or broadcast the full extent of a case involving significant human rights abuses despite mounting evidence could be misinterpreted as something approaching censorship, acting against the public need for this information to be out in the open, even if the only action taken is blurring a piece of footage in an early evening news broadcast.
After all, protecting viewers from seeing harmful imagery, while still informing them of the full horrors of a particularly troubling story, is an eternally tough balancing act – especially when the uncensored footage usually exists online, and news outlets are often accused of hiding information through omission.
This is something that went through my mind more than once just David France’s gruelling documentary Welcome to Chechnya, an important work of journalism about the anti-gay purges in the Russian region that has seen LGBT people imprisoned, tortured and often killed. With these abuses not just denied, but openly mocked by the head of state Ramzan Kadyrov, the necessity of using such unsettling archive footage that shows innocent people attacked and tortured on the streets is inarguable, and the Russian LGBT Network’s mission to rescue people from the state and help them find international asylum truly heroic.