Channel 4, widely viewed as the most innovative of the UK’s terrestrial channels, is to put a new twist on a genre that is fast becoming clichéd – by producing a self-proclaimed “Guantánamo-style” torture reality show. The programme is part of a 4-part series examining the use of torture in the “war on terror”. The Guardian notes that:
Using an east London warehouse and declassified internal documents obtained from US sources, programme-makers mocked up conditions as they are inside Guantánamo, before subjecting seven volunteers to some of the milder forms of torture alleged to have been used by US authorities.
The programme exposed the volunteers, three of whom are Muslim, to 48 hours of "torture lite" including sleep deprivation, the use of extreme temperatures and "mild" physical contact.
As at Guantánamo and more vividly in Abu Ghraib, the volunteers were also subject to periods of enforced nudity and religious and sexual humiliation.
The seven male volunteers, one of whom withdrew after just seven hours suffering from hypothermia, were recruited initially by adverts asking how "hard" they were.
My own initial reaction to this is a deeply ambivalent one. On one hand, the potential benefits are clear: a programme such as this could serve to translate the news concerning the acts of torture into a more immediate, more pressing medium than has previously been available; a medium that (perhaps unfortunately) allows many of us today to relate or empathise better with those whose maltreatment we are aware of. On the other hand, it would be extremely easy for it to become nothing more than a cheap and cynical caricature of the real issues involved, aimed more at boosting viewing figures than increasing awareness. The jury is still out on this one; but, given the Channel’s history of producing provocative and intelligent programmes – and the fact that the show is to be presented by its respected news anchorman, Jon Snow – there are certainly grounds for hope that it will be a worthwhile broadcast, rather than a simply crass one.
Only, of course, if the public gets to vote for the winner…