BBC defends Gaddafi death images

The BBC has defended its decision to broadcast graphic images of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s final moments after it received nearly 200 complaints about its coverage.

Mobile phone video of the terrified former Libyan dictator leader being manhandled by his captors and photographs of his bloodied corpse were used prominently by British broadcasters and newspapers.

By 4pm on Friday, 197 people had complained to the BBC about its use of the grisly footage in TV bulletins and online reports.

It is understood that media regulator Ofcom has separately received complaints about the use of the pictures by a number of broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five and Sky News.

Mary Hockaday, head of the BBC’s newsroom, admitted the footage of Gaddafi included “undoubtedly shocking and disturbing images” but said it was an important part of the story.

She wrote in a blog on the corporation’s website: “We thought carefully about the use of pictures – which incidentally we used more sparingly than many other UK media – and I believe that overall they were editorially justified to convey the nature of yesterday’s dramatic and gruesome events.”

Ms Hockaday added: “We do not use such pictures lightly. There are sequences we did not show because we considered them too graphic and we took judgments about what was acceptable for different audiences on different platforms at different times of day, especially for the pre-watershed BBC1 bulletins.

“I recognise that not every member of the audience will agree with our decisions, but we thought carefully about how to balance honest coverage of the story with audience sensitivity.”

But writer and broadcaster Mark Lawson, who presents BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme, argued that “even tyrants deserve a private death”.

He wrote on the Guardian’s website: “The pictures of the terrified, wounded and then possibly dead Muammar Gaddafi used on TV bulletins and the print and online editions of newspapers in the last 24 hours seemed to me to be, by some distance, the most graphic and distressing representations we have ever seen of a recognisable individual during his final moments.”

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