Hold the inside page!

Posted: 31 October 2011 in internet, media, world
Tags: , ,

Muammar Gaddafi is dead. So is Phillip Tataglia. Moe Green. Stracci. Cuneo. All the heads of the five families.

Ok, forgive me the misquote from The Godfather, but the fuss/outrage over the choice of newspapers to put pictures of the beaten and bloodied corpse of the first of those listed above on their front pages continues to roll on, and everyone seems to have their opinions.

So I might as well give mine, in a slightly longer format than that allowed by the 140 characters of Twitter.

Everyone has their opinions, and like backsides, although everyone has them, not all are of equal weight, and airing them in public doesn’t necessarily benefit hugely these who own them.

I was about to suggest that it’s become one of those matters where people reach an instant opinion, and then it becomes almost embarrassing to say “you know what? Time and the strength of argument has changed my mind”, but today, I saw the Guardian’s readers editor has indeed changed his opinion. In Roy Greenslade’s column, he reports Chris Elliot as saying:

“On reflection – and having read the complaints – I feel less convinced about the way we used these photographs, although I still feel strongly that they are an important part of this story and should have been used.

The scale of the photo on the newspaper front page of 21 October and prominent picture use on the website took us too close to appearing to revel in the killing rather than reporting it.

And that is something that should feature in our deliberations the next time – and there will be a next time – such a situation arises.”

Greenslade, I have to say, hasn’t changed his mind at all. He says

“I didn’t see it that way then, and I don’t now. I remain convinced that it was a valid journalistic response to this most extraordinary of news stories to publish the picture and to publish it big on the front page.

I take on board the worries about revelling in the death (as in The Sun). But it would have been astonishing for newspapers to have failed to carry such a crucial news image.”

And then today, Matt Lucas waded into the argument, posting a blog entry – his first, and I give him full credit for choosing such a topic for his first entry – in which he argues that, simply, news media should not, as a matter of principle, revel in death. If death has occurred, then report it certainly, but not with horrific images repeated again and again on television, not with gruesome images on the front page where people have no choice but to see they as they pass newsagents, or in a supermarket.

Now, while I have some sympathy with the opinion aired, I’m afraid that Lucas, like many of those commentators who have shown disdain to newspapers recently, has entirely missed the central point.

He’s posted a whinge, a oh why isn’t the world like I want it to be? I’ll forgive him his resort to Godwin’s Law in his response to being queried, simply because I can’t believe he could possibly have known about it. However, that central point?

Newspapers are not in the business of not offending. They’re not in the business of being nice. They’re not in the business of caring whether nor caring if someone thinks their front page distasteful.

Newspapers are in the business of making money.

Simple as that. The only reason they stuck that photo on the front page was because they thought they’d make money doing so. Or, given that everyone else was doing it, they thought that their own circulation would go down if they didn’t do it.

I’m not aware of any advertisers pulling their adverts because of that front page. I’d be very surprised if any had. I’m not aware of any successful boycott campaign because of those pictures.

(On that specific area, a friend made the very sensible point that it’s unlikely that where some tabloids were concerned, it’s unlikely either of us would know that many people who bought the paper anyway. To which the only response can’t be, well then, the newspapers concerned wouldn’t give a shit about us anyway, would they?)

To the other argument, that’s it’s amusing that one half of Little Britain and Come Fly With Me is complaining about being offended by something a media organisation has done, I would argue that he would suggest that at least people have the choice whether or not to watch his television programmes; by putting those photos on the front page, the newspapers effectively removed the choice from the public as to whether or not they saw them.

Ok, defence over – I’m sure Lucas wouldn’t give a damn what I thought (it was to me that he said, after all, that my argument was comparable to saying that the Nazis were right because people voted for them.)

However, nowhere have I said that the newspapers were right. As a matter of fact, I think they were morally bankrupt, using those photos on the front page, or at all. Apart from anything else, they’ve left themselves wide open to a charge of hypocrisy the next time they say that seeing violent images causes the young to become more violent. They should be ashamed of themselves. And I’m sure they would be, had they a shred of understanding.

However, they don’t.

Newspapers are, as I said above, solely in the business of selling newspapers, of making revenue.

I would be astonished if for that week, or indeed the weeks following, there was a drop in newspaper revenues (materially beyond that decline affecting all newspapers as the Internet continues to bite into their market).

It’s been said before that a society gets the media that it deserves, and to a point, that’s true.

What’s certainly true is that as long as enough people choose to continue to buy a newspaper, and as long as enough advertisers choose to continue to advertise in that newspaper, the newspaper will receive no message other than “we like what you’re doing – more please!”

The demise of the News Of The World proved that as soon as enough people stop buying the newspaper, as soon as enough advertisers pull their advertising, the newspaper receives another message.

But for as long as the newspapers receive that first message, we’ll continue to see more images like that of Gaddafi on the front page, and that of a dead Michael Jackson on the front page, and horrifically detailed pictures of celebrities in the midst of tragedy on the front page, simply because there’s no financial reason for the newspapers not to put them there.

  1. Asking a Question says:

    The big, relatively unasked question of some perhaps ought to be asked as follows: does this turn of events in Libya leave much of the African nations even more vulnerable to NATO and mainland China’s respective sets of plans?

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