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?