The Khedira photo-shoot: Tunisia’s media own-goal

I’m no expert on football. I don’t even know as much as Alan Shearer (little joke). But I’ve retained a (grudging) appreciation for stylish football from the days (many years ago) when I still had an interest in the game. So, I quite like some of the stuff in this little compilation of goals and “assists” by the German footballer (of Tunisian extraction) Sami Khedira.

My favourite is his surge down the left wing and the fantastic cut-back cross (1m.45s point). Notice that he actually wins the ball in his own half and basically creates the entire goal, complete with a devastatingly well-judged cross that you can see (from the replay) he carefully picks out. Nice.

Er, OK, this is an Amnesty blog so I’m leading up to something non-football-related … which is the fact that Khedira is in the news off the pitch because of a photo-shoot with his girlfriend, the German model Lena Gercke. Not just any photo, but a “sexy” one. Yep, “sexy”. It’s the sort of thing you open at work with some trepidation / embarrassment. It should possibly be labelled NSFW (Not Suitable For Work), or indeed not suitable for home …

You can argue about the pros and cons of this kind of photo. Is it “sexist”? Does it demean women in its effort to sell a magazine? First and foremost it’s a fully-clothed man with a naked woman. (Never seen that before). Certainly it’s nothing new. A stylish footballer and his model girlfriend (soccer hunk + WAG: where have I seen that before?) is almost a staple of high-end advertising in the Western world (all over the world?) OK, yes, this is a “provocative” photograph (“sexy” / “sexist”: choose your adjective), but should the Tunisian publisher of the photo really be facing prison for reproducing the image? Imprisonment? Surely not.

There’s been a long debate in Britain about the ethics involved in the Sun (and other papers) publishing photos of topless women with zero news value. It is bizarre when you think about it. Recently, at Leveson, the Sun’s editor Dominic Mohan defended this “innocuous British institution” after the campaign organisation Object had said that several newspapers were guilty of the objectification of women (the Daily Star’s “nipple count” feature was mentioned). Object say there’s “evidence of sexism verging on misogyny in the tabloid press”. This feeds into a wider “sex object culture”, they suggest, with a “negative impact” regarding gender equality and combating violence against women. One of Object’s recommendations is that newspapers with this kind of content should be placed on higher shelves in newsagents (they “should not be displayed in newspapers which are sold at child’s eye level with no age-restriction”). OK, an interesting proposal and one that could be debated.

Sometimes media taste and decency issues seem to come down to … er, nipples. The Guardian's Roy Greenslade notes that yesterday’s much-trumpeted Sunday edition of The Sun retained its page three woman (unlike the Saturday edition) but kept the nipples out of view ("obligatory Page 3 totty (though with nipples covered)" he says in the print edition). Recently it was Facebook bans images of breastfeeding women if the nipple is visible. It’s a nipple obsession! I’m reminded of that old John Cooper Clarke classic, You Never See A Nipple In The Daily Express …).

With people like Marie Colvin getting killed in Homs, journalists meanwhile wounded in Syria and detained in Libya, you get the feeling that the Tunisian authorities have totally lost sight of what really matters with a free press. (It’s the deadline for the annual Amnesty media awards this week; another reminder of what really matters in the world of journalism).

As it happens, in the “offending” GQ photo reproduced in the Tunisian newspaper, Lena Gercke’s nipples are … well, covered up by Sami Khedira. Either way I don’t think the publisher Nasreddine Ben Saida should be facing prosecution for this, never mind a possible five years behind bars. As Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui’s says, Tunisia’s censorious moralism is a step back to the Ben Ali era. In fact, it’s a total own-goal.

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