Death Porn and Gadaffi

Death Porn as defined by Urban Dictionary:
Death porn is a slang term for the material found on the internet that is intended to gross out its viewers. All pictures/videos of dead bodies, horrible accidents, or blood and guts can all be classified as death porn
It is a phenomenon surfacing on the internet - as most modern phenomenon are. I read Jack of Kent's posting on this subject and had to ask: why are we seeing Death Porn in the mass media?

Take this for example. The front of the Sun's homepage:

Perhaps not a surprise when you consider The Sun's previous form with such classics as 'Gotcha' during the Falklands War. But have I missed something here?

When did it become OK to show death so graphically - and in such a celebratory fashion on the front page of a newspaper?

The Sun was by no means only outlet to use Death Porn on its front page.

This is The Mirror:

Pretty awful. Not quite as crowing as The Sun but clearly a celebration of the death.

Then there's this in the Mail:

Let us not forget that the Mail is classically one of those papers quick to point the finger at violent TV or video games for escalating violence in society's young.

It seems to me that the mass media is simply unable to resist. They can see material being published on the net and want 'some of the action'. It is a rationale used to defend the monstering in the coverage of Christopher Jefferies in the Joanne Yeates murder investigation.

But news media is read in a different way to social media such as Twitter, Youtube and Faceboook - there is an impression of authority from a conventional media outlet and that authority gives the words and images power.

Just as Peter Parker was told by his Uncle Ben 'With great power comes great responsibility' - the gratuitous use of these images is not serving any purpose other than to celebrate death. And is that a purpose the mass media in this country should be pursuing?

If we desensitise ourselves to death and violent in such an accepting and mainstream way, where does it lead? I'll leave you with this story that has brought tears to the eyes of this hardened hack.

Tweeting from court

Court is one of the places where journalists are most restricted in what they can write, photograph, record or film.

That is why I am so staggered that Twitter seems to have been welcomed with open arms by some parts of the judiciary. It's less than a year since journalists were given permission to Tweet live from court.

The live Tweeting from ITV's Rupert Evelyn during the trial of Vincent Tabak is a superb example of why Twitter can be such a compelling tool in the hands of a court reporter.

Rupert kept up an incredible flow of Tweets from the trial and during the moments of Tabak's evidence it was a staggeringly compelling read.

I even almost forgave the lack of capital letters throughout. I still think journalists must maintain high standards of SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) even if it's 'just social media'.

Longer term, I have concerns about the ‘thirst to be first’ and the prospect that promoting immediacy in news reporting may damage the traditional role of contextualising and analysing. But what is clear is that, used well, Twitter can be of huge benefit to a journalist and their readers.

And immediacy can only supplant contextual and analytical news if we let it.

So. All power to Twitter and the journalists taking advantage of a superb platform.

Perhaps it’s time to open the doors more completely – what about recording devices and cameras in court? These times are a changing and courts should be keeping up.

Rugby World Cup coverage: the thin end of the wedge

OK so rugby is a passion of mine but bear with me - this post is still about the media.

I have become increasingly frustrated by the coverage of the England team in the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Not the match coverage - that seems accurate and fair: England are poor, limited, shapeless and seemingly clueless about how to change.

What has frustrated me is the pious finger-pointing within the press that seems determined to label the team as alcoholic, arrogant thugs who've let their country and the sport down.

There are key incidents that have been cited as evidence:
  1. The squad's attendance at a Queenstown bar holding a 'dwarf racing' evening
  2. Mike Tindall with his arm around a 'mystery woman' shortly after marrying the Queen's granddaughter.
  3. Chris Ashton, James Haskell and Dylan Hartley being offensive to a hotel worker
  4. Manu Tuilagi jumping from a ferry into the sea at Auckland
You can make up your own mind about how you feel about those incidents when you read about them. Some will find them deeply offensive, some will find them not worth mentioning and some will see somewhere in between.

My point is more to do with the lack of honesty in how the media has covered these incidents.

Take the Guardian's rugby correspondent, Robert Kitson. He wrote a very derogatory piece about the players following the night out in the bar.

Fair enough - he's entitled to his opinion. But then we get to the paragraph about this not happening with New Zealand or Australia - and he specifically cites The All Blacks coach Graham Henry as the kind of manager who would not tolerate this behaviour.

But then what was a this story tucked away a couple of weeks later? New Zealand stars caught drinking heavily and smoking in public.

Right. So the 'Henry The Disciplinarian' that Kitson described will take action for sure? No. Cory Jane played a couple of days later in his usual starting berth.

Then we get repeated articles about Warren Gatland and how his success is down to the tight ship he is running and the fact there are alcohol bans in place.

This is the same Warren Gatland desperate to recall Gavin Henson and willing to recall Andy Powell after their numerous previous incidents?

I highlight these not to demand action against these players but rather to highlight the media hypocrisy. They know what they are printing is not true. Gatland has been so embarrassed he has been forced to make a statement denying the drinking ban and admitting that his players have been socialising in bars until 1.30am.

Even David Campese - the self-confessed king of all England haters - has come out to defend England against the media in a podcast for The Times (no link - that's a paywall for you). So you know you're doing something wrong even Campo won't stick the boot in.

I have friends in New Zealand who have reported to me that they had a great night in Queenstown drinking with the players of another Six Nations teams. The boys from that team got a bit squiffy and decided to go diving off the pier into the lake. I don't remember seeing that one reported although there were journalists on that night out as well.

So in light of what has been happening within the media this year, it seems relatively unimportant. But for me this kind of stuff is the thin end of the wedge.

The danger with inaccurate reporting is that it becomes cultural knowledge - assumed behaviour because as we all know, 'there is no smoke without fire'. And as we have seen with Theresa May's cat, even politicans fall for that sometimes. And lo and behold here's Fran Cotton slating Mike Tindall for being 'absolutely hammered' - when there appears to be little evidence that was the case.

I met Richard Peppiat recently and he believes that journalists draw a clear distinction between lying and not telling the truth. So not giving the complete picture about rugby players' behaviour isn't lying but we haven't been told the truth and that annoys me.

If the media really is offended by this behaviour then fair enough report it. But report it evenly or not at all.

Ethical Journalism

I have spent a large part of the last four weeks welcoming trainee journalists to both the profession (or should that be trade? One for a another day perhaps) and to the University of Gloucestershire.

In one on my first lectures I always point to the Ethics Handbook for Journalists produced by the Thomson Reuter Foundation and the list of 10 Ethical Absolutes that handbook contains.

1. Always hold accuracy sacrosanct

2. Always correct an error openly

3. Always strive for balance and freedom from bias

4. Always reveal a conflict of interest to a manager/senior editor

5. Always respect privileged information

6. Always protect their sources from the authorities

7. Always guard against putting their opinion in a story or editorialising

8. Never fabricate or plagiarise

9. Never alter a still of moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement

10. Never pay a source for a story and never accept a bribe

Of course, with the Leveson inquiry under way, this is highly topical. So lets throw the question out there: Of these 10 absolutes, how many are adhered to on a daily basis by the mass media in the UK?

* Update: You have to read this view of Dacre's evidence by News Thump.