ABC drops the F-bomb
Until last week, I thought the silliest casualty of modern warfare was the word “bomb”, which in many news reports had become known by the acronym IED, or improvised explosive device.
IED might be a handy term for military strategists needing to distinguish between a mortar fired from a well-equipped conventional unit of soldiers and a bucket full of fertiliser and nails left by an anonymous freelancer in a car on a crowded street in Baghdad, but to the media, any explosive device whose detonation imperils those in the immediate vicinity should, provided it’s not Barry Hall after giving away a couple of 50s, be simply referred to as what it is: a bomb.
To do otherwise simply buries the true horror of the incident under a comforting layer of jargon.
But that euphemism is the linguistic equivalent of Richard Reid’s Hush Puppies since some PC editor or committee at the ABC took the sanitising of war coverage to new and unprecedented levels last week.
The story was by Thom Cookes, who was with a joint patrol of Australian and Afghan soldiers hunting militants and weapons in the southern Uruzgan province, and shown on the 7.30 Report on June 15. It is some of the most extraordinary news footage you will see produced by an Australian news crew this year.
The patrol often came under fire, and had to duck for cover. On the third day of what seemed like a game of cat and mouse between the insurgents and the patrol, the Australians and their Afghani partners found themselves being fired on from three directions.
The camera went shaky as live fire and shrapnel flew in all directions, and the sound of gunfire cackled. You didn’t need to be David Stratton to appreciate the scene’s intense drama, or that the people involved were understandably unlikely to adhere to the niceties of prime-time TV.
For the most part the patrol kept their heads under the pressure, but at the height of the attack, one of them uttered what I assume was a four-letter word, which the ABC amazingly, and hilariously, bleeped out.
It’s traditional, as we know, for some rude words to get the bleep on TV, especially before 8.30pm. But that’s usually because the swearing is discretionary or redundant, not, as in this case, a succinct response to a sudden and life-threatening alteration to one’s immediate prospects of making it past morning smoko.
If it’s not okay to depict a man swearing while he’s being shot at by a nut-job with an RPG on a mission from Allah, when the f**k is it?
You can’t sanitise reality. If there was a point to the Chaser’s notorious skit about dying children last month, it was that feel-good charities do not always represent the harsh truth of what is a desperate situation. Fair point, if you ask me, although in that case the Chaser committed the bigger offence of not being funny.
The 7.30 Report made up for that. That “bleep” in the middle of intense gunfire couldn’t have made me laugh harder if it had been written by Chris Rock and starred Ricky Gervais as a cross-dressing prostitute caught in the crossfire.
“That remarkable report recorded by Thom Cookes in Afghanistan leaves absolutely no doubt about the kind of risks that Australian troops there are facing on a regular basis,” presenter Kerry O’Brien said after Cookes’ report. No shit, Sherlock. But the more significant risk regularly being faced by our boys of uttering potty language while under fire is a story the ABC is yet to report.
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