Where should the line be drawn between satisfying public curiosity and respecting the dead and their surviving family members? What makes a scenario too gruesome or disturbing to broadcast on the news or post on the Internet? What needs to be seen, and what falls under the heading of needless provocation?
At first glance, the answers to many of these questions of media morality seem obvious enough. Morbid fascination is a natural part of the human psyche, but when this interest is satisfied too readily, the result can be collective misery for all of the parties involved.
Take, for example, the case of Steve Irwin -- Aussie television personality and environmental conservationist hero to millions. His programs included The Crocodile Hunter, The Croc Files, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, and New Breed Vets. When Irwin died in September, off the coast of Queensland in Australia -- having been fatally stabbed in the heart by the barb of a giant stingray -- there was a remarkable outpouring of grief from his fans around the world . . . more than could ever have been expected. People were shocked that their "invincible" hero, a man who had regularly wrestled crocodiles and wrangled with venomous snakes, had been killed by a creature that rarely harms humans.
This grief was magnified when John Stainton, Irwin's close friend and the director of his Animal Planet wildlife documentaries, made a public announcement that a camera had caught Irwin's death on tape. The masses flocked to their computers, surfing the Internet for the footage. As of this printing, the tape has been successfully kept under wraps -- either locked away safely or destroyed, just as it should be.
An avid environmentalist, Irwin made a name for himself by eagerly promoting the study and advancement of wildlife sciences and conservation. He transformed the sinister image of some of the world's most feared creatures, including the infamous saltwater crocodile, into one of fascination and even respect.
Irwin's fame was the result of a genuine concern for the Earth's environment and its many occupants, big and small, human and animal. Much of his salary was pumped right back into the conservation efforts he prized so highly, such as the Australia Zoo. This man put his money where his mouth was.
The thought of publicizing a video of his death is truly heinous, especially after his family and friends have made it clear that they wish for the tape to be destroyed. It isn't the right of the people to have their curiosity satisfied. Hasn't Steve Irwin given us enough of himself and his family and his incredible love of nature over the years?
The question of appropriate media in contemporary society is constantly in a state of flux. There are times when the public is entitled to more information about a particular incident -- even if the incident was a tragedy. As citizens of a country that is up to its chin in a war overseas, we have witnessed a good deal of injustice and misguided information in the past few years. So why push the issues of a "death tape," when the man whose memory is at stake has done nothing but endear himself to his family, his country, and his fans around the world? Enough is enough. Give Steve Irwin's family -- and his legacy -- the space it needs to recover and prosper.