I used to buy Time Magazine regularly. I had an interest in American politics, enjoyed a journal with a view (however compressed) of the world. I stopped subscribing to Time Magazine at the start of 1989. Since then I have looked at editions of it only rarely.
At the end of one year and beginning of next they published a series of images of the year. The edition of the magazine published immediately after the Lockerbie disaster included a series of photos. One featured a rear view of my grandmother’s house. At the end of her garden was a tree. In the tree was a body. And Time Magazine printed a photo of that body, its arm lolling down.
That was enough for me.
i’d been in Lockerbie in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The enormity of it was, and even now is, hard to comprehend. I saw things I wished I hadn’t when I was there. And in a magazine – albeit a news magazine – here was an image that should not have been published. This was somebody’s child. But for the sake of illustrating a story where apparently the mere fact of more than 250 deaths, and the image of a crater in the Sherwood crescent area of the town, or the image of the item after item of luggage laid on the ground occupied by the children’s playpark in Park Place, or the image of the cockpit at Tundergarth, were not enough to convey the enormity of the tragedy a magazine took it upon itself to publish a picture of a corpse.
No British paper published anything like this picture. It seemed there was a general idea that some things were beyond publication. This idea continued for years afterwards. We did not see images of Diana, Princess of Wales, after her road accident. There was a boundary.
I was reminded of this last week when the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi was summarily killed. The news broke, and within minutes journalists and news organisations on twitter were tweeting about the need for a photo. And lo, one appeared. I did not click through. Gaddafi may have been responsible for Lockerbie. I had no desire to see his body.
After the initial publication some noted that there must be a video because the image seemed to be a still from a video taken on a phone. And lo, video appeared. I did not click through. I did not want to see a man killed. I did not want to see him plead. I was satisfied with news reports saying he had been killed. I did not need visual proof.
I was surprised when visiting the front page of the BBC news website (which is bookmarked on my computer) to be confronted with the image of Gaddafi’s corpse. I was surprised to see journalists defending newspaper website publication of Gaddafi’s picture within an hour of the picture emerging, brushing aside concerns for human decency and dignity.
I did not expect to have to switch off the television when the BBC early evening news showed an image of the bloodied corpse. I did not expect that when I took the children in to buy comics the following morning that every newspaper would have an image of the bloodied corpse on the front page. I thought our newspapers were better than that. I thought we were better than that.
What do I know though?
We are in a country where our newspapers put the picture of a man being murdered on the front pages and have no concerns about it.
We are in a country where our television stations show footage and images of a man being murdered on the early evening news.
What a damned place.