MoS sales coup for 'Tortured' splash

MoS:realised picture’s full impact

The Mail on Sunday’s dramatic front-page colour picture of shackled and hooded Taliban prisoners at their Guantanamo Bay prison has proved a winner with readers. But it has caused controversy.

Its sales soared 4.3 per cent last weekend to an estimated 2,407,000. Part of that was due to a TV promotion for the fist instalment of a Delia Smith slimming pull-out but a similar promotion for the TV cook in November saw the paper’s sales rise only to 2,361,000. Editor Peter Wright therefore estimates the prisoner story was worth a good 50,000 extra sales.

The stark headline, "Tortured", above the picture, led inside to a two-page spread by William Lowther in Washington and Carol Rosenberg at Camp X-Ray in Cuba on the treatment of the prisoners, likened by human rights campaigners to that endured by prisoners in Eastern European torture camps.

The picture was running on Reuters on Friday night. It was used wide and in black and white by some of the broadsheets on Saturday but the MoS reckoned that reduced its impact. Night picture editor Les Wilson saw the potential of a tightly cropped, colour picture.

Wright had, say sources, been "banging on" all week to his newsdesk about the way the captives were being treated and the picture just fitted the bill.

Wright said: "The picture was there for anybody. It just shows that you can take an agency picture and if you use it in a creative way, you can put on 50,000 copies."

But other newspapers were split on the issue. The News of the World was unsympathetic to the prisoners, calling them evil terrorists, wicked beyond belief, and adding: "Hand-wringing claptrap about their human rights is nauseating." The Mirror took the MoS line, asking Prime Minister Tony Blair what he was doing "in our name" and castigating him for refusing to condemn US treatment of the prisoners.

The Sun came roaring back on Tuesday with a front-page 72-point headline, "Lies", and quoted British diplomats as denying MoS claims that the Taliban were tortured, shackled, gagged or blindfolded. It also had quotes from Downing Street that it believed they were being treated in a humane way.


By Jean Morgan

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