THE BLOG
04/09/2015 09:35 BST | Updated 03/09/2016 06:59 BST

Are Newspapers Correct to Use Such Shocking Images on Their Front Pages?

A toddler lies dead on a beach, his young life having been ended as he and his family desperately tried to escape war-torn Syria for a better, seemingly safer life in Europe.

Images of drowned Syrian-Kurd Aylan Kurdi - who perished with his five-year-old brother, Galip, and mother, Rehan, in the Aegean - are agonising to look at.

But asked to look at them we were, as the picture has been used across the front pages of most UK national newspapers.

The pictures of lifeless Aylan come just a week after most national newspapers took the decision to print images from the murder which took place during a live news broadcast in the US when Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, shot dead reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward on live TV as the two were filming a light-hearted morning segment.

Vester had filmed himself carrying out the murder and one image used by the media was a first person view which showed his gun pointing directly at Alison. It could have been an image straight from a screen-grab of a violent computer game but tragically, it was all too real.

Across social media, there has been fulsome debate on whether it is actually correct for newspapers to use such graphic images on the front page?

Is it merely an intrusive, unnecessary step which is designed to sell newspapers in a world in which they are under increasing pressure to shift copies?

Are we human beings so hardened to the mass of images we are exposed to every day, via the internet, rolling TV news, magazines and social media that the level at which we will be shocked has risen beyond acceptable levels?

One comment I read on Twitter was poignant and in a way, helps us get to the crux of the matter.

That comment was to ask why we are debating whether the image should be used or not, when the truth is we should be debating the real issues behind the image. In Syria's case, that is of course the refugee crisis. In the case of the TV news crew murder, the issue is American gun crime.

But I believe it isn't about separating the issues of the pictures being used and the social or global events which surround them. One leads firmly to the other, of that I've no doubt.

Another comment I saw on social media posed the question why it has taken images of drowned Aylan to get so many people to finally sit up and take notice of what has been a long-unfolding human tragedy.

This is a very good point which, although the answer to which goes deeper than a debate around the media's use of a picture, strikes at the heart of the matter.

While we know print has been in steady decline for years, there is still something very real and powerful about an image being used on the front page of a newspaper.

Far and above images we see on the web or on TV news, newspaper images bring home the stark reality, harshness and tragedy of events.

The decision to put such images on the front page of a paper is not an easy one for an editor who does not want to be accused of stepping over the fine line between showing what is real and what is in bad taste.

But ultimately, I believe the decisions made to have been correct ones.

We saw tabloid, mid-market and broadsheet papers taking the same choice to print.

And the picture has sparked debate among all those readerships in the UK, which despite falling readership levels, runs into several millions.

It has also forced more people to see beyond traditional, often xenophobic, headlines printed around migrants.

Brutal, appalling and shocking as it is, it showed the tragic cost of human life in war-torn countries.

And late in the day it may be, the debate it has sparked underlines the need for brave decisions to print such images.