Grisly photos of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons published on the front pages of several national newspapers have prompted comparatively few complaints to the press watchdog.
The Press Complaints Commission has received 25 complaints about the photos from members of the public. This compares with more than 400 which were registered a month ago when The Sun and Daily Mirror published front-page pictures of Cameroon footballer Marc-Vivien Foe who collapsed on the pitch and later died.
A PCC spokesman said: “To some extent, people are saying they don’t think these pictures should have been on the front page when anyone can see a front page in a newsagent.
“It’s not something that’s really covered by the Editors’ Code – the PCC does not cover matters of taste or offensiveness.”
Pictures of the bullet-ridden bodies of Usay and Qusay Hussein were released by the US military last Thursday in order, they said, to prove to the Iraqi population that the notorious pair were really dead.
The Mirror, Guardian, Times and Daily Telegraph published the photographs in some form on their front pages.
The Daily Mail, however, called the release of the photos “barbaric” on its front page.
Although they were published inside the paper, an editorial stated: “Isn’t there a hint of distasteful triumphalism in exhibiting vanquished enemies as trophies, in a way reminiscent of medieval barbarism?” The Independent used a heavily obscured version of the controversial photos on its front page accompanied by a comment piece from Robert Fisk. He said that the US release of the photpgraph would “prove to be either a stroke of genius or a historic mistake of catastrophic consequences”.
Guardian deputy editor (news) Paul Johnson defended his paper’s decision to use the photographs, saying: “We had to decide whether using the pictures would be gratuitous, there was no doubt when they came in there was a real story around the pictures. The politicans were very much in favour of releasing the photos and the military men were uneasy. Our front-page story reflected this.
“We used them in a way that wasn’t as direct as the Telegraph. We softened them by reducing the size and putting them in a panel with the normal face pictures next to them.”
Publishing pictures of the dead could conceivably contravene clause five of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which states that publication in times of grief or shock must be handled sensitively. However, clause five complaints can only be raised by a relative of the deceased.
By Dominic Ponsford