Woolwich attack: We have a duty to report these images, but editors face difficult ethical questions

Reporting on this sadistic murder allows us to see - and see through - its perpetrators

Share
Related Topics

The front pages of newspapers this morning are shocking, and rightly so. What happened should shock and disgust us, and should challenge everybody in Britain today. But the images will also cause disquiet, and raise the legitimate question about whether the media should display in Technicolor the brutal acts of desperate attention-seekers, who are actively seeking the coverage in the first place. 

Almost every single title has splashed on the now iconic image of the apparent terrorist, arms stained elbow-high, reeking with the blood of an innocent man, meat cleaver in hand, wild staring eyes, fervently clamouring for the notice of the world for what he had done. (The Daily Express did not, preferring something more neutral, presumably to allow them the freedom to share the page with a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge. Apparently she is still pregnant, and decided to wear a cheery shade of yellow.)

I saw the papers come in last night on Sky News. What was striking was that we were discussing the still images of a video (first shown by ITV, endlessly retweeted, and finally appearing on the BBC) that Sky News itself had declined to show. 

This was a brave editorial decision (which has not garnered much attention) and should make us reflect on the ethics of media coverage of extreme acts. I am not sure I entirely agree with what Sky did, but they should be applauded for taking a stand based on their own sense of ethics, of what a responsible broadcaster should do in a fast-moving and highly-charged situation.

The arguments against running shots of the violent footage split into questions of taste and ideology. On the taste front, children (and adults) may well be disturbed by the gore of what was a vicious act.  But I would argue that it is impossible to protect anyone from something as significant as this: information now pervades shared existence to such an extent that the iconography of extreme violence will become fixed whatever individual decision is taken by the traditional media.

And more importantly we have a right to know what has happened in our streets. It is not incitement to report factually on newsworthy events: the people responsible for this outrage should be condemned out of their own mouths. By seeing their desperation, we also see why their cause is futile.  We can recognise that the bloody murderer was not an advocate against British foreign policy, or for any reasonable ideology. He was someone crazed by a mistaken faith in an orthodoxy and world-view that led him to forget the most important truths about shared humanity.

And humanity is the reason that the images matter. It is right for us to focus on the fact that real blood has been shed, of a real person, with a family now shattered by grief. Now we have heard the ravings of the murderers, and seen their dreadful work, so we should now be able to dismiss them.

The real ethical question for the media now rests on the respect that must be shown to those who know and love the victim.  He will be named, and his family must be given the chance to grieve privately. That is when the thoughtful considerations of editors will matter the most.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner