Friday, October 21, 2011

Please say we're not a nation of tricoteuses - the appalling coverage of Gaddafi's death

Before I start, don't think for one moment that I will be shedding any tears for Muammar al-Gaddafi. He was a thoroughly nasty, cruel, manipulative man who cared little for the lives of innocent people, whether his own citizens or those of other countries calmly going about their business in Northern Ireland, or catching a flight across the Atlantic. The world is undoubtedly a better place for him being out of power.

The British media, sadly, isn't showing its best side, though, in its coverage of the dictator's demise. You don't expect much of the Sun, for sure, but for them to splash a photo of a dead Gaddafi on their front page with the headline "That's for Lockerbie, Yvonne Fletcher and IRA semtex victims" defies even the most basic standards of decency. The thought of that image being displayed at toddler height in supermarkets makes me feel ill.

But it's not just the Sun. Decent newspapers like The Guardian and the BBC haven't been as crass, but I really don't think it's right to show video footage of the last, violent moments of a human being's life. There are no exceptions. Technology may make it possible to film such events, but editors should show more discretion than they have. I don't like the self-justifying "these scenes will upset you, but there was a lot worse we could have shown you" argument we were hearing across the tv news networks last night.

This all put me in mind of the "tricoteuses" at the French Revolution, women who would gather to watch the guillotining in the market square, calmly knitting between executions. Now, there's an argument that they had been directly affected by the profligacy of the monarchy, not getting enough to eat. There's also the fact that in those days, mortality rates were pretty high and life expectancy low because medicine and sanitation were much less advanced than they were now. Even with that direct involvement, it wasn't right. Your average Sun reader gloating over Gaddafi's death over their cornflakes has no excuse.

If we accept this sort of thing, where does it end?  Televised executions in the US? After all, if it's right to show the death of one bad person, what about the rest? I'm not going to be buying any papers today because I really disapprove of the way all of them have covered this event.

I think we could all do with learning from the unfailing dignity of Dr Jim Swire. He suffered the loss of his daughter Flora on Pan Am Flight 103 but he's not celebrating Gaddafi's death. Speaking on BBC Breakfast and quoted elsewhere, he said that he'd much rather have seen Gaddafi put on trial.  However unpleasant a spectacle months, if not years, of Gaddafi rants in the International Criminal Court might sound, it would have been much better than what's happened. We might have found out more about his dealings with the US and the UK. And, of course, we now have no chance of finding out the truth about Libya's involvement in Lockerbie from his point of view.

I'll leave the last word to Anna's 12 year old friend. The first thing she said on arriving here was that she'd seen Gaddafi was dead - but she didn't think it was right to show the dead body because he was a human being after all. It's people like her who make you optimistic for the future of the human nature.


Martin Greig said...

No individual should die in the brutal and vicious way that Gadaffi died. Anyone who welcomes this killing and its coverage is simply encouraging terrorism and violence as a way to solve problems. I am proud of David Cameron who did the right thing. He said remember the victims. He made this speech with great dignity and honour. He said the UK would help Libya become a democratic and fair country. However, the killing of Gadaffi is an ominous start for the new regime. The glorying in the press and TV of an unlawful killing - revelling in the graphic details - is a worry for our old regime.

Ellen Arnison said...

Couldn't agree more.
The world is a better place without him, however, that doesn't make his murder by mob and the subsequent celebration of his bloodied corpse any more acceptable.
Jim Swire is a great example.

Edis said...

Anna and her friend are right - the redt of us need to work hard to live up to their standards.

Ed said...

I was really shocked when I saw the image splashed across the top of the Guardian website yesterday and had to sit in a carriage of hundreds of bloodied faces on the front of Metro this morning.

Everyone I've spoken to has been disgusted by the media's lack of editorial control on this story.


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