After The Sun plastered murder victim Reeva Steenkamp unzipping her bikini on its front page on Friday, Twitter exploded with comments from outraged users. The model shot to death by her boyfriend, Olympian “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, was noted as an activist for women’s empowerment, yet a petition with more than 4,500 virtual signatures argues that her image exemplifies a persisting view “that women are worthless pieces of meat, who aren’t safe from objectification even after their death.”
Since Pistorius was charged with Steenkamp’s murder on Thursday, several news outlets, including The Huffington Post, posted slideshows including swimsuit and lingerie photos. The press has repeatedly recognized the 29-year-old South African as “a regular on the South African party scene” but rarely as a law school graduate, liberal blog ThinkProgress noted. Some argue that such exploitations of sexuality despite the circumstances paint news outlets as sensationalists with misplaced priorities, valuing profits over the deceased and her family.
Marina Hyde of The Guardian commented that such practice is “nothing new.” She wrote that when she worked for The Sun, staffers were formally instructed about how to maximize circulation by finding excuses to showcase bikini-clad celebrities. But Friday’s front page went too far, Hyde argued; The Sun did not even need racy photos to entice readers, as the story of a amputee-turned-Olympian on trial for murder was compelling enough.
Hyde also pointed out that The Sun did not run a usual Page 3, “maybe because that particular itch had been scratched by the murder victim.” Last week Rupert Murdoch hinted at an end to the topless Page 3 photos that have been a staple for the newspaper since 1970.
The issue entered the political arena with former former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Labour Party politician Chris Bryant calling for their Twitter followers to complain to Sun editors. Prescott popularized the hashtag “#HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp,” a jab at The Sun’s nameless referral to her as “Pisotorius’ lover” on the front page. Bryant wrote that the cover story was “despicable” and “it glories in domestic violence.”
Former Sun editor Neil Wallis defended the cover with a series of tweets about how the controversy is “totally fake.” He added that The Sun was justified in using the photos because Steenkamp was a model: “If it was Michael Phelps he’d be in his swim gear,” he tweeted.
Bryant called for Murdoch to apologize via Twitter, but Murdoch stood by the cover, tweeting, “PC hypocrites scream about Sun publishing murder victim in bikini after Huff Post carries 40 of same subject.” True, The Sun wasn’t the only news outlet to feature a scantily-clad Steenkamp — The New York Post and The New York Daily News had similar front pages — but is the argument that “everyone else is doing it” a valid one?