Events in the recent past have brought into sharp focus media ethics and emerging problems facing the media industry. Specifically, the difference between liberal journalism and violation of acceptable media norms has come under spotlight in the recent past. It is imperative to note that the access to information has been opened up by new technologies, and the propagation of democratic ideals such as the individual’s right to self expression.
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While such a phenomenon is good for democratic governance, the morality behind liberal broadcasting has been critically questioned especially in situations that involve war. In the recent past, the media has been awash with disturbing images of tortured and dying tyrants such as Muammar Gaddafi.
This has generated mixed reactions from various quarters especially within the media. There are those who feel that broadcasting Gaddafi’s images is indecorous and violates his dignity and individual right to privacy. This implies that his final moments ought to have been treated with as much privacy as possible.
Yet, others feel that other than his death being the best outcome of Libya liberation movement, having his images splashed for public show is in appreciation of the violent nature of the war and that those images gratifies the victims of tyrannical leadership. Though I concede that the death of Muammar Gaddafi is a justified outcome of Libya’s liberation war, in his final moments, the media ought to have given him the privacy he rightly deserved.
The display of Muammar Gaddafi’s dead body by the media smacks of ignorance of the basic tenets of ethical journalism; that people in their final moments deserve as much privacy as possible. The fact that the media, buoyed by the new found journalistic freedom, has found it impossible not to publish Gaddafi’s dying moments does not justify the presence of Gaddafi’s gross images in both print and broadcast media.
Even though the images of Gaddafi’s final moments had a warning that they were possibly offensive, the mere act of publishing them ignored major ethical issues regarding journalism and the treatment of the dying. These include the distress caused to unsuspecting viewers and his close relatives, that each individual deserves privacy in their final moments and that and that displaying such images goes against the grain of journalistic etiquette (Lawson, 2011).
Amidst the debate on such ethical violation is the plight of Gaddafi’s family members and close friends. These two, were most affected by his death. Yet the images of his body being dragged, tortured, maimed and rotting added to their anguish of loosing a beloved person.
Broadcasting such gross content underlies the failure by media councils to make the media accountable for its actions (Herman, 1996). Despite the fact that Gaddafi was a tyrant, for the sake of journalistic ethos and the plight of his family members, his death deserved privacy from the media.
Lawson (2011) asserts that Gaddafi deserved private death since the display of Gaddafi’s final moments in the media was gross violation of journalistic etiquette. On the other hand Jones (2011) is does not explicitly mention the need to give the former Libya tyrant a private death, but exposes a number of issues which supports Lawson’s (2011) assertion on the need to give Gaddafi’s death the privacy it deserves.
Jones (2011) is critical of the varied media reaction on images of the dying Gaddafi, asserting that such reaction is hypocritical, one sided, ignorant and that the media treatment of his death overshadowed other pertinent issues surrounding Libya’s liberation. Jones (2011) further asserts that some quarters within the western world are quick to object such bloody treatment of Gaddafi, and that such objection is ignorant of the bloody war in Libya.
Additionally, the hypocrisy surrounding reaction by the western media is compounded by the fact that it is the western powers, through NATO, that facilitated the bloody war in Libya. By objecting to Gaddafi’s torturous treatment on one hand and supporting the bombardment of Libya with bombs on the other, the western media portray NATO-led Libyan war as righteous, thus justifying it.
Jones (2011) argues that this overshadows other pertinent issues surrounding Libya’s liberation, such as the fact that Libya is in the middle of a bloody war, violation of human rights in the present volatile scenario and the possible perils in post Gaddafi Libya. In sum, since broadcasting Gaddafi’s death in the media overshadows the genuine causes, course and consequences of the NATO lead war, his death deserved to be handled away from public glare so as to give prominence to genuine issues affecting post Gaddafi Libya.
The fact that Gaddafi death deserved privacy should not overshadow the fact that publicizing it is necessitated by the prevailing cultural and technological changes. Lawson (2011) argues that societies have increasingly become doubtful and that conspiracy seems to shroud major occurrences.
As such, any claim of the death of such a monumental leader can only be verifiable through pictorial evidence. As such, the images of the dying Gaddafi seemed relevant to alleviate any lingering doubt about his death. However, Lawson (2011) does not seem to account for the fact that with the new technological advancement it is possible to forge such images. As such, treatment of his death also might have fallen in the hands of pranksters.
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Yet in Gaddafi’s case, the images portrayed in the media are not as a result of professional journalism; they are shot using latest technologies such as camera enabled mobile phones and published in unconventional media by unknown members of the public, amongst them those who wanted him dead (Jones, 2011). Thus, journalistic work seems to have left editorial desk into the hands of non-professionals.
The biggest journalistic failure in this case is the republishing of his gory images by the mainstream media, encouraged or in fear of the fact that public curiosity would turn readership towards unconventional media. As Jones (2011) rightly puts it, this intensifies the “development of a culture of death porn”. Thus, to stem the growth of such an unethical culture, the mainstream media should have treated the death with as much privacy as possible by limiting or even discouraging the publication and viewing of Gaddafi’s death images.
Amidst the reaction on the treatment of Gaddafi’s death, there are those who felt that publicizing the torture of Gaddafi in his final moments was justified. Even though the morality of publishing these images is questionable, Jones (2011) argues that this tends to satisfy and gratify those oppressed by Gaddafi.
Additionally, those images are a stark reminder of the bloody conflict in Libya and that they are the best outcome of Libyan’s efforts towards their liberation and subsequent success. By not expecting to see Gaddafi images displayed in public is to live in the fantasy world where such a bloody war is expected to have an “impossibly dignified and humane end” (Jones, 2011).
The liberation movement turned bloody the moment NATO and its allies invaded Libya. Using war planes, NATO blasted Tripoli and other Gaddafi strongholds with bombs un-relentlessly. The more NATO bombarded Libya, the higher the chances of killing Gaddafi. It is therefore improper to expect that in such an occurrence, Gaddafi would have been treated with dignity, given the fact that amongst those who wanted him dead are the Libyan rebels, whom he had subjected to so much terror.
As such having those images is not only an indication that people have accepted the reality of the bloody nature of the war but also the best outcome of the war. Yet, such notions have been regarded as distasteful, and in violation of the journalistic morality, since by indiscriminately publishing sensitive information, the media fails in its moral obligation to respect an individual’s right to privacy (Bacon, 2005; Englehardt, n.d.). By broadcasting Gaddafi’s dying moments, his individual right to privacy was grossly violated. This underlies the need to treat his death with as much privacy as he rightly deserved.
The death if Muammar Gaddafi was greeted with much jubilation amongst his critics both within and without Libya. It was seen as a major hallmark towards the end of tyrannical leadership and democratization of governance in the Arab world. Yet there were loud murmurs which objected to his treatment in his final moments.
Despite the fact that Gaddafi was a tyrant who had meted out much torture to his critics, violated basic human rights, subverted justice and the rule of the law, he still deserved a dignified treatment in his final moment. The manner in which his death was treated by the media and the public alike portrays major ethical failures.
Bacon, W. (2005). Theme Media ethics and accountability. Pacific Journalism Review 11 (2) 17. Web.
Englehardt, E. (n.d.). Media ethics: the powerful and the powerless. The Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, XVI (3). Web.
Herman, J. (1996). Making the media accountable: the role of press councils. Australian Press Council News, 8, (4).
Jones, J. (2011). The west wrings its hands over dead Gaddafi photos, but war is always hell. The Guardian (UK). Web.
Lawson, M. (2011). Even Muammar Gaddafi deserved a private death. The Guardian (UK). Web.