Newspapers and dignity

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.

(inspired to write this after reading this excellent piece by Andrew Collins and this by Mark Lawson and the frankly worrying comments that appear at times under both)

About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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13 Responses to Newspapers and dignity

  1. And we’re in a country that has an appetite for it – a damned place indeed.

  2. My family is also from Lockerbie and I didn’t share The Sun’s triumphalism in the least. The thing that upset me the most, however, apart from the sheer gorefest, was when Sky’s TV footage of Gaddafi’s body being dragged through the streets overran into the ad break. The screen cut straight from that death scene into a commercial. It made me feel cheaper for seeing someone’s death trivialised to the point where it was on a level with flogging soap powder or whatever the godforsaken product was. Screen fodder.

  3. Absolutely spot on sir. Well said.

  4. In these circumstances, a picture is not worth a thousand words. Your post says it all. Well done.

  5. Kris says:

    Back in the day, I had a friend from nr Lochmaben. We went to the garden of remembrance – and I could hardly face looking at it. I was also an acquaintance of one of the students onboard.

    My recollection from the time was that Lockerbie was a payback for the US Navy inadvertently shooting down a civilian Iranian airbus.

    I have no idea what the truth is or the extent, if any, of Gaddafi’s involvement. I know he was nobody’s sweetheart.

    But the Internet is a cesspit. Everything’s a you tube these days. We can all glory in depravity on our mobiles.

    Have you ever seen It’s a Wonderful Life? This world’s turning into Potterville before our eyes.

  6. Robert Black says:

    As another Lockerbie boy (and one who met Gaddafi more than once) I thank you for this.

  7. Sue says:

    I totally agree with your points. I to, chose not to click through to the links or images or videos. I take no delight in seeing the death of another human being. However, last week that choice was taken away from me. Clicking on the BBC website after the news of his capture I was also confronted by the horrific image.
    I did not choose to view that image I wanted to read the latest news…
    The Suns front page took that choice away from my children too…
    I expected from the red tops but the widespread publication across all media was disgusting. My choice was taken away.

  8. malc says:

    Agree entirely Mr Love and Garbage. Totally sickened by the coverage. What a society we’ve become.

  9. Ned says:

    I agree with this up to the point of it becoming about “what a society we’ve become”. We’ve always been that society. It was not so very long ago that even prim and proper Englishmen (and women) crowded into public squares to watch the last minutes of some wretched prisoner, and more than often, cheered when the deed was done.

  10. Iain Sharpe says:

    I don’t think this is anything new though. I remember being shocked at walking into a newsagents in December 1989 and seeing pictures of Ceausescu’s corpse on the front page of more than one newspaper.

  11. Richard Bijster says:

    It strikes me as rather odd that it’s quite alright to plaster pictures/ video’s of Col. Gadaffi being firstly sodomised by a knife, tortured further and then murdered. Yet, when it comes to British or invading NATO sodiers being killed, or, carrying out atrocities, very little is ever published or discussed in the news. These images are all part of the propaganda strategy of dehumanising the ‘enemy’. Let us not forget that the American public got so sick of seeing their own soldiers being killed night after night on American national television, and, reporters showing films and reports of atrocities American forces had carried out in Vietnam that it helped bring an end to the Vietnam war. The use of such images is nothing new, how they are being sold to the public these days is. Don’t forget, the UK & NATO was helping these thugs and murderers from the start by taking part in the so called ‘protection of civilians’. They were using your tax to pay for it. 12 million UK pounds per day. Looking at the images coming out of Sirte, NATO didn’t seem to be protecting many civilians there.

    What happened to Gadaffi and his son is nothing less than a war crime, there is no ‘may’ about it, as we hear on the corporate news channels. As it’s a Western war crime, nobody will ever held responsible for it. That is just as disturbing as any of the images that have been doing the rounds over the last few days. One wonders in which direction humanity is going.

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