Is it OK to show dead people's faces in newspapers and on TV now?
Following the enthusiastic publication of Muammar Gaddafi's dead face, we sensed an upcoming furore about showing grisly pictures in the media and the declining standards of mainstream journalism. Is it now morally acceptable to show the faces of the dead in our newspapers and on our television screens? Do the aforementioned dead have to be evil dictators, or would it be OK to show the face of a dead paedophile or road rage killer? Blah blah, blah blah blah?
Keen to get involved, we took to the streets and asked the people who mattered. Yeah, that's right: the little people, the good old British public.
VICE: Have you heard that Gaddafi's dead?
Emmett: I just heard from you.
They showed his dead face in the media. Is that OK?
To be honest I think showing graphic images of dead people is offensive to the majority of young people in society. You don't really want those images to be scarring children.
What if it was just adults who saw the pictures?
Well, that's perfectly fine.
Assuming that these dead pics are just for the grown-ups, would it be OK to show other dead people, like Hitler?
At the end of the day, he's a human being like anyone else, like you or me, like that woman over there, or my mum at home. When you think about it, would you want your parents looking at a picture of you being shot in the face? Probably not.
Definitely not. I don't want to be shot in the face.
I wouldn't want to look at a picture of Gaddafi being shot for the same reason—he's got family, he's got kids, he's got relations.
Fair enough. Is there anyone that would be OK to show dead in a newspaper?
Celebrities, like the Essex girls. It wouldn't be a crime to see them in a different light.
In a different light—or shot dead?
Well, not to the extreme that they show dictators. I think it's quite sad about Gaddafi, you know.
Gaddafi was under the illusion that he was a good person, because he was cooperating with MI5 and the CIA. In spite of all the bad things he's done, he thought he was a good guy. And now, who are the good guys?
You tell me.
I don't know. It's a good question.
Yes it is, Emmett.
VICE: Colonel Gaddafi's dead.
Lee: I was oblivious to it.
They released a picture of him. Is that OK?
Lee: I think for clarity. It might be good for the public to know for certain that he's been executed. As for his supporters, I don't know.
What about Bin Laden, should his face have been shown?
Steve: Probably, but then you have to worry about him becoming a martyr.
What about David Attenborough?
Lee: No. Why?
In a purely reverential way. Like how some people have open casket funerals.
Lee: Not so much. Attenborough is a well-respected British icon. I don't think people need to see his face.
So, it would have to be a person who is considered "bad."
Steve: I think it depends on their background. Bin Laden has not been tried or anything, but he evidently had connections to al-Qaeda. Again, with Gaddafi there's been genocides and wars that have gone on for years. You've got to keep what's going on in the Middle East pointing in the right direction.
What about Bashar al-Assad, then?
Steve: If you've started with one, you've got to do it with the rest.
Lee: I agree.
What about a non-political baddie, like Gary Glitter?
Lee: Definitely not.
He's not evil enough?
VICE: You've seen the pictures of Gaddafi?
Tom: Yes I did.
What did you think of them?
Didn't look real did it? Looked like a rubber mask.
Do you think that from now on, dead people's faces will appear in the media more often?
I saw it on the Sun website, so I wasn't really surprised.
A lot of other news sources used it, as well.
Then, yeah, it's gonna become more common.
OK. As this sort of thing happens more and more, do you think the media will start to cast a wider net?
Yeah, I think it may happen.
No. Probably not Ricky.
So it has to be someone who's been bad?
What about Mugabe?
What about someone like Kerry Katona?
She's not a great mom. Not sure about that.
So, the line's drawn at Katona?
Yeah, I think so.
Would you like your dead picture to be in the newspaper?
Can't say I would. Would you?
I'd be dead, so I don't think I'd really care.
VICE: When did you hear about Gaddafi being dead?
Hamish: About an hour ago.
What do you think about them showing his dead face?
I thought it was pretty grim and quite wrong. Especially since it's the first thing you see on the BBC News website.
Do you think that's going to become more common in the media?
Yeah. The BBC, I presume, are doing it because they know that if they don't, people are going to go elsewhere for their news sources.
So, competition in the media could make this kind of thing happen more frequently?
Yeah, it's torture porn. Everyone looks at it. You don't want to look at it, and it is pretty disgusting, but you still look at it. It probably doesn't speak very highly of people, but I suspect that's just how humanity is.
So are we just as morbid as we've always been or are we getting more morbid?
I think it's our ease of access. I used to work in PR and we saw lots of this stuff. I remember seeing videos of Saddam Hussein. They were shared around like hot donuts at a football game. And before that, you had all those beheadings in Iran. Stuff just gets leaked. You could argue that it all started with Tsar Nicolas II in Russia.
Do you think it will become normal treatment for dead people other than ex-dictators?
You could argue it's a slippery slope. People become desensitized. It might start with a really evil or disgusting leader. And before you know it, pictures of dead celebrities will be plastered everywhere. You won't be able to get away from it.
Like Russell Brand?
Hopefully not in our lifetime. But there are people who will start lusting for blood. That's where lynch mobs come from. But I think your average normal human being is pretty far away from that.
VICE: Did you see Gaddafi's dead face?
Gareth: I saw it in the Sun.
Do you think it will become more common for the media to show dead people?
Once the internet is involved, the tone just gets lowered. People can find whatever they like online.
Do you think we'll start seeing people who aren't tyrants in our newspapers?
In ten or 20 years, possibly. Again it depends on the target audience, who's the paper going to.
How far do you think it will go?
If you look at the history of how death is portrayed, it's probably only since Victorian times that things have been covered up. Look back at medieval times—this is part of the human condition.
What about Alan Sugar?
Yeah, that would be good.
Definitely. It's basically what interests the public. The more you show it, the more people want it in the public sphere. Then it becomes a question of who do you cover up? After a while, it'll get down to innocent victims.
But then again, they have shown a lot of victims from 9/11 and more recent incedents. We're in the information age, and that includes all information—whether you like it or not.
If Nick Clegg died, what angle could they spin to make that acceptable?
I have no idea. "Cameron's Monkey is Off His Back"?
You should work in the media.
It also depends on who's taking the picture. If a well-known photojournalist took the picture, would it have more meaning? Some of the most important pictures ever taken have been of dead people.
VICE: Did you see the pictures of Gaddafi?
Penny: I did.
What'd you think?
News is news. You have to feed the population whatever they want. You're not gonna cater to everyone's taste.
Do you think there'll ever be a time when we will celebrate people by pubishing their dead pictures?
News is news. Whether it's happy or sad. Everyone seemed to appreciate the coverage of Prince William's wedding, and that's also news.
It's a flip of the coin.
Who would be OK to show dead?
Why the Queen?
Absolutely! I can't stand her now. I'd probably enjoy it if she died. No disrespect, but she is German. Half-Scottish and half-German. Half-Greek, actually. "English Monarchy"—how screwed up is that?
What about Nick Clegg?
I don't like him when he's alive, so I'd probably enjoy it if he was hanging from somewhere.
You're being pretty gung-ho about this. Anyone else in TV you're not into? Ricky Gervais?
I love Ricky. He's English, pompous, and American's don't get him. Anything that rubs Americans the wrong way, I love.
I've met him actually. He's not a bad guy. The Loose Women though, oh get rid of them! They look gross with make-up. What do they look like without it? Go and have another face lift, darling.
VICE: Did you see those pictures of Gaddafi that have been everywhere?
Tom: I did, and I watched it all on YouTube.
Do you think it was okay to show him dead?
It surprised me that the YouTube video of a dead guy and being dragged around was allowed to go up on the site. And it's interesting that the pictures were on the Metro's frontpage this morning. It made me more interested in the story.
Do you think this will become the norm?
I saw the pictures on the Daily Mail website of the Mexicans who were all dumped and killed. I know it sounds a little bit sordid or disgusting, but I think anyone would be attracted to it out of curiosity. It's more shocking than anything else. I don't think it should be done without a reason. The Gaddafi thing is the most graphic thing I've ever seen.
So that curiosity could mean it becomes more popular?
I mean, English newspapers show people getting out of their car in their underwear. I know it's a different thing, but it's still quite graphic and revealing. I don't think it should go any further. I saw Lindsay Lohan in court the other day, but I wouldn't want to see her lying in the morgue.
What about someone well-behaved, like Tom Hanks?
It would be a bit of a surprise. But publicity can give the franchise a boost. There'll always be something they'll publish. If it's not this, it'll be drugs or your weight or the day you die. It's all coverage. I went to China once and I heard they had Emperor in an open coffin because that's an honorary custom there. Would you want a picture of your dead body broadcast around the world?
No, not particularly. But obviously I would if I was successful or a figurehead or an Emperor and people wanted to honor me. I don't think it should go any further than it is now. But it's one of those things that when the public get behind it, you can't really stop it.
When you see body bags you have that thing inside you that wants to see what's inside? I'm not going to slice everyone open in this park, but you know what I mean?
So what do you think? Was it right to show Gaddafi's dead face? Would you like people to see your dead face? Let us know in the comments.