independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Use of Michaela death pictures 'morally wrong'

Michaela: strangled in hotel
Michaela: strangled in hotel

A DISTINGUISHED international lawyer has described the publication of pictures of the body of murdered Michaela McAreavey in a Mauritian newspaper as "morally wrong".

In a report on media ethics on the island, London-based human rights lawyer Geoffrey Roberston QC said there was "no public interest in the publication, other than to sell more copies of the newspaper on the back of a 'grisly' exclusive".

He cited the publication of the crime scene pictures of Ms McAreavey's bikini-clad body as a reason why Mauritius needed to establish a code of conduct for the press.

Imran Hosany, the editor of the Mauritian 'Sunday Times' newspaper, is facing charges of "outrage to public and religious morality" for printing the pictures last July. He faces a possible jail sentence if convicted.

Ms McAreavey, the daughter of Tyrone football boss Mickey Harte, was strangled on the Indian Ocean island while on honeymoon with her husband, John, in January 2010.

The two hotel workers accused of her murder, Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, were acquitted after a two-month trial last summer.

The Mauritian government commissioned Mr Robertson, a former UN appeal judge in the War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone, to review media law and ethics on the island in 2010.

He delivered his preliminary report to Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam last week.

In it, he says that without a press code of conduct, decisions to publish can be made "which can subsequently be perceived as morally wrong".

He said the publication of the McAreavey crime scene photos was "an example of this".

It "caused outrage and hostility towards Mauritius in Ireland", he wrote.

He quoted Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who reacted to the publication of the pictures by saying it was "an appalling invasion of privacy and is a gross affront to human dignity". Mr Robertson added: "I suspect most people in Mauritius would agree."

He said the lack of a press code on the island meant police charged Mr Hosany with the "dragnet offence" of outrage to public and religious morality. He said the "vague" offence threatened "genuine press freedom".

Instead, he argued, "a shared sense among editors and journalists that certain conduct is unseemly and unethical" would deter "this kind of outrage".

ETHICS

In his recommendations, Mr Robertson said Mauritius should encourage ethics in journalism through a code of conduct and establish a media commission to consider complaints.

Prosecutors in his trial have accused Mr Hosany of engaging in "sensationalism" in his decision to publish the pictures.

His defence has argued that "publishing photos of dead bodies cannot be considered as outrageous" and claimed the decision "was in the interest of the public".

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