Broadcasting regulator Ofcom received only 25 complaints following the broadcast of images taken from Iraqi television of Saddam Hussein’s execution on 30 December.
The footage of Saddam being led to his death – and the still pictures of him lying dead in his shroud – have prompted widespread debate over whether they should have been publicly aired.
But in terms of complaints to Ofcom, the amount of public outrage pales into insignificance compared to the more than 1,000 who contacted the regulator in June last year to complain about the eviction procedure on Channel 4’s Big Brother.
All the major broadcasters showed the ‘official footage’of the run-up to the execution.
A video of the full execution with audio – believed to have been shot by a guard or witnesses’s mobile phone – is widely available on the internet in its entirety, but has only partially been shown on mainstream media.
An Ofcom spokeswoman told Press Gazette: ‘We received 25 complaints over the Christmas period across various channels regarding the images used in news coverage of Saddam Hussein’s execution.
‘We are currently in the process of collating all of these complaints and will look into them with regards to the broadcasting code.’The BBC sent world affairs editor John Simpson and Clive Myrie to Iraq to reinforce its permanent bureau during the event.
It first broadcast the pictures from Iraqi television on a time delay on BBC One’s Breakfast News programme, which gave the option to cut out material.
On Breakfast News and for the early part of the day and evening on BBC One, editors decided not to show the noose being put around Saddam’s neck, as there could be many children on school holiday watching, and a warning was given ahead of Simpson’s report. However on News 24 and for the late evening bulletins on BBC One, more pictures of the run-up to the execution were shown, as it was felt that people were ‘choosing actively to watch a news channel – and the late bulletin is on after the watershed”.
The Press Complaints Commission has received around half the number of complaints about pictures in the press of Saddam Hussein lying dead with a noose around his neck than it did when pictures of his dead sons Uday and Qusay were published.
Around 10 to 15 complaints have been sent in referring to pictures of Saddam in a variety of newspapers. No complaints have been made about video images on newspaper websites.
Assistant director at the PCC Stephen Abell said: ‘People are generally saying they find the pictures offensive. ‘The vast majority of complaints are from people expressing their distaste and concern about the use of the pictures, but the PCC never makes any judgments about tastefulness.
‘Fifteen complaints is not a strong public reaction to a particular set of photographs.
‘I suspect if we have formal complaints they would be under clause 5 (intrusion into grief).
‘We have to make clear that generally speaking we can only consider cases from those directly affected by the article or picture about which they are complaining. ‘They can make an argument as to why we should waive that on this particular occasion.”