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Dakar newspaper sells death

The cover story of today's "L'Observateur," a popular Dakar newspaper, is about the mysterious death of Rolland Stephen, a German convert to Mouridism who had been in Senegal for three months. He was found hanging from a rope in his Dakar apartment yesterday.

Underneath the headline is a photo of Stephen's head still suspended by the rope, his eyes closed and his mouth gaping open, and another photo of his covered body on a stretcher.

Not enough for you? Flip to page nine to see seven photos of the scene, including a larger version of the cover portrait and one of a police officer cutting Stephen's body down. The spread is entitled "La mort de Rolland Stephen en images."

I can't quite put my finger on why the publication of these images disturbed me.

Were photos of the cadaver really necessary to tell the news story? Out of all the day's news, did this man's death truly warrant a cover and two-page spread? How would I feel if this were my deceased family member or friend? Would these photos have been published if the deceased were Senegalese? Would I see photos like this in an American newspaper?

Dakar has a dizzying number of newspapers — 20 dailies and two weeklies, I have been told, though I will confess I haven't counted — and the competition at the newsstands is fierce.

I've heard some in Dakar accuse the papers of sensationalism in their quest to sell, particularly when it comes to the covers. There aren't really any hard and fast ethical standards when it comes to sensitivity, so the editors run what they've got.

For comparison's sake: the cover story of today's "Le Quotidien" is about a soccer match and the front page of "Le Matin" is about a political meeting.