Joshua Bakacheza – more than a PR tool?

The story of how the photograph of Joshua Bakacheza’s beaten and burnt corpse was used by Gordon Brown at the recent G8 summit to influence fellow world leaders in relation to Zimbabwe has largely been reported by the mainstream media to reflect positively on the prime minister.

As Paul Canning reports, however, the source of the images was civil action group, Sokwanele, via its use of new media – a blog, Flickr images and Twitter (through which, the group connected with 10 Downing Street). 

I haven’t been able to find a photograph of 28 year old Joshua when he was alive.  His legacy is an image of his dead body, which was undoubtedly shocking when unexpectedly passed around by Brown.

Although Brown’s move will have brought the online work of Sokwanele to a larger audience, I feel uncomfortable by the impression that the Number 10 PR advisors have used the images to feed a story of Brown as a hero.

The fate of Joshua does bring Mugabe’s murderous regime into sharp focus with its human angle, but it seems somewhat distasteful for the story to focus on Brown in this way.

But then again, without this narrative element, Joshua would probably be just another statistic.  So in bringing the images to Brown’s attention, and reporting the story in this way, the PR people succeeded in cutting through the media and public apathy. 

Which leaves me wondering if in PR it is okay for the ends to justify the means?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

3 thoughts on “Joshua Bakacheza – more than a PR tool?”

  1. Hi

    I haven’t seen a picture of Joshua either, I’m sure if one was available Sokwanele would have used it. The family would also I’m sure have approved use of the photo + I also know that Sokwanele just want the story told. It annoys me when acknowledgment isn’t given because the bravery of their sources in supplying information and images is heroic – but they just want the story out there. So although we care that Brown acknowledges them, they don’t mind. Similar use of the web happened in Kenya’s crisis and had a real impact. Mugabe’s thugs have signaled that this is having an effect too – showing the terror to the world – by launching a new war on underground news.

  2. Paul – thanks. Pretty scary that using social media can be so dangerous for some people – my thoughts are with the guys there trying to bring news out of such an awful regime.

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