Meredith Kercher killing: Ethics of displaying pictures of crime scenes that sell
The suspects in the murder of Meredith Kercher have launched a further bid to persuade a court to allow them bail pending the ongoing investigation into the brutal killing of the British student slain in the Italian town of Perugia last year. With much explaining to do about DNA and other scientific evidence found at the crime scene, the accused are maintaining their protest that some mysterious murderer had passed among them and they are actually innocent. While there has been plenty speculation about the case and the accused in the press and through online forums, that did not prepare Kercher's family or viewers for the footage that a regional Italian producer saw fit to broadcast on the evening of 31st March 2008.
Somehow a regional television station based near Perugia had obtained images of Meredith Kercher's bloodstained body and decided it was acceptable to show it as part of their documentary into her death.
With Kercher's parents threatening to sue the TV station, the question arises as to what can be done to prevent such audience and ratings seeking sensational footage. What purpose is served by showing the corpse of someone so brutally murdered - this is no Crime Stoppers reconstruction but the real thing. How did the production company obtain the footage and how could a broadcaster clear it for transmission?
This is effectively the news or current affairs equivalent to a snuff movie and unquestionably distressing for the victim's family or anyone who knew her. In the UK there are regulatory guidelines that govern what can be shown on television and what is appropriate in what context. In this case the Italian broadcaster and production company could operate with no reference to the rules that apply in the UK. Further, they could also take the cynical view that as she was dead, they could output anything to do with Kercher without complaint.
The dead have no privacy or reputation when it comes to the law UNLESS one can show that by violating the respect one would normally and morally confer on the deceased one is also violating the rights of relatives or others still living who can legally claim a cause of action as a result of the insensitive reporting of the fate of their relatives. This case again highlights the impotence of the law to protect victims and their families from the 'sales value' of their misery.