Internet fear over film of naturalist's last minutes

Film showing the moment that Steve Irwin, the naturalist and film-maker, was impaled by the barbed tail of a stingray should be destroyed before it finds its way on to the Internet, his close friend and manager urged yesterday.

“I would never want that tape shown,” John Stainton, who has viewed the footage, said during an interview with Larry King on CNN. “It should be destroyed.” Mr Stainton, who broke down in tears several times during the interview, said: “It is in police custody for evidence. There’s a coroner’s inquest taking place at the moment. When that is finally released it will never see the light of day. Never, ever.”

Yesterday Bob Irwin, the naturalist’s father, said that the family would probably decline the offer of a state funeral for his only son. Speaking outside Irwin’s zoo in Queensland, where hundreds of mourners have placed flowers, Mr Irwin said: “The state funeral would be refused . . . because he’s an ordinary guy, he’s an ordinary bloke and he wants to be remembered as an ordinary bloke.”

Irwin, 44, died on Monday when he was stabbed in the chest by the stingray’s tail barb as he was filming for a TV documentary on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast Australian coast.

The footage shows the attack, with Irwin pulling the serrated barb out of his chest before losing consciousness and convulsing in the water.

Media observers said that the tape might soon be circulating on the Internet. Already, spoof images of Irwin being chased by a stingray were being exchanged by email yesterday.

Paul Levinson, chairman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York, said: “Once there’s something on film it’s impossible to keep it contained.”

However, experts in media ethics said that the footage should not be shown because there was no compelling public interest to do so. “The lay person is not going into the water trying to have encounters with stingrays,” Samuel G. Freedman, of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, said. “It would be purely titillation and necrophilia if anyone were to show this.”

Opinion within Australian television networks was divided on the merits of showing Irwin’s death.

Peter Meakin, head of news at Channel Seven, said: “I am sure that there would be something there that would be broadcastable.”

Terri Irwin, the American-born widow of the crocodile hunter, once remarked of her husband: “Steve always says, ‘Whatever you do, keep [the cameras] rolling’. I tell him, ‘They aren’t going to show it if you die’.” Now Mrs Irwin and television executives must wrestle with that conundrum.

Even Irwin reckoned that the world should witness it, said Tommy Donovan, whose online biography of Irwin appears on IMDb, the film website. Mr Donovan said that Irwin was adamant about keeping the cameras rolling no matter what. “He tells his camera crew to always be filming,” the biography says. “If he needs help he will ask for it. Even if he is eaten by a shark or croc, the main thing he wants is that it be filmed. If he died he would be sad if no one got it on tape.”

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