Thursday, 23 May 2013

Pages that show butchery on London street

The horrific hacking to death of a man in a busy Woolwich street during a spring afternoon was always going to dominate the news. The footage of a bloodied-man wielding a meat-cleaver and attempting to justify the killing, while the victim lies in the road behind him, is one of the most appalling images I have ever seen on British soil.
As is standard these days, the websites and the broadcasters had the whole thing covered in detail almost immediately while social media delivered every viewpoint imaginable. My over-riding thought is for the family of the man, believed to be a soldier. What they are going through sends a sickening shudder down to the pit of my stomach. I just hope, unlikely though it is, that they can avoid ever seeing the video.
It was a tough call for today's newspapers. They had to report on an event that had already been universally told. They had to balance taste, tone, legal considerations while reflecting the outrage and shock. Then there was the question of how much do they speculate? Were the killers fundamentalists or just deranged madmen? The papers might even have considered whether to use the pictures at all. Why use pictures and messages of men who apparently kill for publicity? In the end, the journalist's role is to tell people what happened and the instinct to publish is overwhelming. So how did the papers report this shocking event: 

The Daily Telegraph goes for a full width picture of the bloodied man with the meat cleaver. The crowds, the London bus and the daylight are a stark reminder of the fact that this was, until then, a normal day. The headline is almost a speech bubble. Chilling. There is a small inset of the victim's body.

The Daily Mirror uses a powerful, tried and tested approach. It wipes out the page with a picture of the ranting man and goes for 'Beheaded ..on a British Street' across the bottom. The picture and headline are both shocking. 

The Sun has a slightly different picture from the rest of the papers, a little less threatening, which allows it to run a lower case headline. It has gone for a 'paraphrased' quote ... which is not quite what was said. Like some of the other papers, The Sun has no problem with concluding that this was the work of Muslim fanatics. It uses a small inset of the victim with the Help For Heroes hoodie visible. It's not clear what the 'exclusive' relates to.

The Times is a little more conservative in one aspect. Rather than wiping out the front it leaves in its blurb, a second story and its cross-refs. It hasn't gone for big impact ... it is a fairly standard Times front. It is less conservative, however, in that the body of the victim is clearly visible.

The Daily Star certainly pulls no punches. It too chooses the image that represents the story and leaves in the soldier's body, as well as the crowds and the London bus. It has no qualms in linking the attack to Iraq and says unequivocally that the victim was targeted for wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt. 

The Daily Mail uses the image of the machete man, blown up to wipe out the front. It does not use the victim. With Mail attitude, the headline is effectively a caption: 'Blood on his hands, hatred in his eyes.' The Mail has no hesitation in linking the event with the war on the west by Islamic terrorists.

The Guardian skies the photograph of the man with the meat cleaver and crops off the victim. The London bus and crowds in the background are important for the context of this incident. The paper uses the chilling quote from the killer: 'You people will never be safe'.

The Independent goes for two untidily cropped square pictures of both suspects across the top and, instead of the rants from the alleged perpetrators, uses a Boris Johnson quote: 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable'. It's difficult to argue with the sentiment.

The Indie's sister paper the i, also goes with the two pictures (off the square this time) with a characteristically straight headline.

Metro also chooses the image of the man with the machete and headlines on his chilling threat. There is a front page warning that Pages 2-5 carry graphic photographs.

The Scotsman takes a very different angle - with a photograph of the two suspects pinned to the ground by police. The headline focuses on one of the many shocking aspects - that the attackers posed for videos afterwards. 

The Daily Express knows its readership and they clearly don't want to see a bloodied man ranting at the camera minutes after committing a murder on their front page. A beaming Kate in bright yellow is, though, perhaps a little incongruous. 

All in all a strong set of pages covering a horrific event. There is nothing uplifting or positive in what happened yesterday or the way it has been reported on the front pages. There is one small positive story though. It is that of Cub scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett who persuaded the attackers to hand over their weapons and kept her nerve as one of them told her: 'We want to start a war in London tonight.' The Telegraph has her story here.

Thanks as ever to the excellent , @suttonnick 


  1. This is definitely not the once great island nation I was born into in the 1940's. Where on earth did it all go wrong?

  2. Where did it all go wrong? Iraq and Afghanistan would be a good place to start.

    1. We're responsible for this? That's an inversion of reality to say the least. The greatest numbers of Muslims being killed in this world are being killed by fellow Muslims. That's reality!