An investigation into...
The representation of Michael Jackson in
the media before and after his death and
the ethical and legal constraints
By Jasmine Aloma
For my report, I have been looking in depth into the media portrayal and
representation of Michael Jackson before and after his death. I also looked
into the 2005 paedophilla court case and the preceeding trials regarding him
following his death (Conrad Murray trial, AEG/Catherine Jackson trial).
I complied both secondary and primary research to help support my report
and aid as evidence. For my secondary research, I looked into 12 different
sources in print media, cross-referencing and compiling a timeline of events.
For my primary research, I used 3 different methods to source information. I
held a focus group with 3 girls in between the ages of 17-18, undertook a
content analysis of different media sources in regard of the Jackson
paedophilla case and a questionnaire with 12 respondents between the
ages of 16-40.
Why I chose this topic
I have been an avid fan of Michael Jackson for most of my life and hearing about the death of such
an influential star gained my attention. Because of being a fan of Michael, the challenge is to not
The events preceding the trial were sensational and heavily overtook the news and media in the
following months and years. Being heavily interested in PR and representation, I decided to carry
out my research into the representation of Jackson after his death and the court cases
surrounding his death. The question I chose to focus on was ‘How was Jackson represented after
his death and what were the legal and ethical constraints?’
Jackson's’ doctor, Conrad Murray was a suspect of involuntary manslaughter and went to court to
serve a prison sentence for giving Jackson drugs which were usually only administered under
controlled conditions e.g in an operating theatre. I also was interested in the court case against
AEG, the company behind Jackson's last tour This Is It. The legal and ethical concerns of these
court cases also interested me as sensitive and private information was divulged.
Was this constant release of sensational stories in order to gain the right verdict? Or was it to aid the
storm of hype around the star and sell media?
In my research into secondary sources, I found most of the stories regarding Jackson
were the 2005 paedophilia court case, the ‘Living With Michael Jackson’, his death,
and the Conrad Murray trial. To find a general view of how the media portrayed
Jackson, I looked at different online newspapers ranging from tabloid to broadsheet
which included The Guardian and LA Times.
As well as looking at newspapers, I searched the web to look at independent websites
e.g blogs. In my research, the representation of Jackson differed from topic. In
regards of his death, the commentary appeared to be more balanced. Whereas in the
reports of his paedophilia allegations, the stories I found appeared to be quite biased
and forthright in accusing Jackson of wrongdoing.
Therefore with this varied mix of stories and viewpoints, I had a balance of sources to
contextualize and compare.
Within my research, the legal and ethical implications regarding Jackson's death were a big
centerpoint. My main point of research was looking towards the negative representation of Jackson
as this was a common view of him whilst he was alive.
Through searching through Google, I came across an issue of OK! Magazine on July 7th 2009.
The magazine published a ‘tribute issue’ for Jackson with the front cover depicting graphic imagery
of the star presumably dead or unconscious.
According to the source of Brand Republic, OK! magazine paid $500,000 (£300,000) for exclusive rights to a photo of
Michael Jackson taken as he lay dying while paramedics attempt to resuscitate him using CPR.
The celebrity gossip title claims the photo is the last one showing Jackson alive after his fatal heart attack. This appears
to be a ploy to gain readers and sells and it promoties it’s ‘exclusivity’ and the ‘last pictures of Michael with bold
headlining and offers of ‘free’ memorabilia for the reader also. This therefore brought me to a conclusion that the
media use the death of celebrities or those in the public eye to gain a profit. According to the PCC code of accuracy,
this goes against the code. The ruling states, ‘It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without
their consent.’ As Jackson was unconscious, it is highly likely that Jackson did not consent to this photo being taken.
Therefore, this breaches his ethical rights as it was taken out of his knowledge and shows him in compromising
Source 3 - Legal and ethical constraint on
Source 4 - Legal and ethical constraint on
The Sun also published a photo of Jackson in a hospital bed, again in a apparent comotose state.It engaged debate to gain
a more balanced view, I looked into the article by Roy Greenslade, a columnist for the Guardian expressed his
‘The jury in the trial of Jackson’s doctor were shown it - and the paper is merely giving its readers the chance to
see what the jurors saw.
I suppose it might upset his family, but can the picturing of a body of a relative be said to be intrusive into their
privacy?’ (Source 4).
According to my focus group, it was believed to be unethical. It posed the question on whether consumers are entitled to
know the inner details of their idols or are there limits to what we are and are not allowed to see. (See further in slide
14 and 15)
Within the PCC Editor code of conduct, the public interest is a factor within the codes. The public interest includes detecting
or exposing crime, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being misled by actions or
statements from individuals or organisations in the public eye. In this case, Murray was a registered doctor in LA and
did treat American patients. Also, Murray was convicted for the crime of involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, a crime
was exposed to the public which is a clause in the code of public interest.
Although the front cover image appears to be quite colloquial and arguably disrespectful to Jackson, the demographic of the
newspaper should be taken into consideration. 68% of its readership are of the C2DE demographic, who are more
inclined to read tabloid newspapers and magazines rather than broadsheets such as The Guardian for example due its
content (although, this is a general perception on audiences and demographics). Similarly with OK! (Source 3),
therefore meaning both prints are trying to engage their readers and increase their readerships.
informal and use
‘death pic’ ‘doc’
Takes away serious issue of
topic and displays lack of
Whilst looking through Google, I came across the will of Michael Jackson avaliable
as a .pdf file for viewing online.
The will was shown in the media, on magazine site ‘The Smoking Gun’. (Source
14)This may not be a negative or positive effect on his representation but it
shows the executors of his estate and highlights the fact that his father is not
eligible to any of his trust fund, which supports the negative relationship
Jacksons speaks of having with his father in his documentary. On the other
hand, although the family members names are shown on the will, their
information such as address and contact numbers are blurred.
This leak of sensitive information leads to Source 8 where Murray gave interviews
about Jackson, breaching California law. This shows a trend of the media
showing a lack of ethical consideration in the regard of Jacksons sensitive and
Court cases following Jackson's’ death -
Conrad Murray - Source 5
The trial of Conrad Murray following Jackson's death was highly shown in the media and contributed
to the portrayal of Michael Jackson, as Murray made allegations against the late Jackson to
support his plea of innocence.
The Guardian (Source 5) details how Murray used the media to alter his perception in the media as a
murderer and suggested Jackson used the anesthetic Propofol, which later killed him ‘long before
they met’. This is a conscious effort by Murray to shift the blame, as it were, to Jackson who was
known to be losing a lot of weight and not sleeping, according to a court testimony regarding
Jackson’s well being which was also reported by the Guardian (Source 11).
This could be seen as the media being used a tool to aid perception of those in legal battles. It then
poses the question of whether the media should not be allowed inside a courtroom and jurors
should not be allowed to speak to the media. However, in the AEG court case in 2013, the judge
denied TV networks access to televise the trial, to curb ‘a circus like atmosphere’. (Source 10).
This effort to deny access to the courthouse therefore shows an active effort from the courts to
support Michael Jackson ethical rights and stop further sensationalization of the proceedings.
The publication of court evidence in the
media - Source 11
Alongside the involuntary manslaughter case against Murray, there was the case against AEG, brought forward by
Jackson's mother, Catherine.
In one article I studied (Source 11) emails sent between promoters of Michael Jackson’s comeback tour,
corresponding about the fear of Jacksons’ stability were released, after being shown as evidence in court. The Los
Angeles Times obtained some 250 pages of messages between employees of AEG working with Michael. Some
of the emails indicated that executives were also concerned that Jackson’s show would be too expensive. This
reveal of discrete emails, although helpful towards the case are a breach of privacy of Michael Jackson and also
the sender and recipients of the emails. The emails sourced were looked at by the courts in plain form and also
were reproduced by the Los Angeles Times, therefore meaning the information was scrutinized by many sources,
increasing reliability that the content was accurate and real.
However, with the newspaper being able to access and read such information links back to my focus group where
respondents in my group agreed that there should be tighter legislation on the media's access to information which
could alter an individual's representation.
The publication of court evidence in the
media - Source 9 and 10
Among most of my sources, it appeared to correlate that most revealed detailed accounts of
evidence revealed within a courtroom. This not only generally damages Jackson’s image but is an
The Guardian (Source 9) reported of the private affairs of Michael Jackson being ‘laid bare’ as
evidence. Details regarding Jackson’s drug-taking, his mental state and lowest moments,
including the child molestation charges from the 2005 court case against him. It was also
documented that the judge warned the jury there were going to be witness some ‘ugly stuff’
AEG’s defence stated:
“The truth is Michael Jackson fooled everyone. He made sure that no one –
nobody – knew his deepest, darkest secrets.” (Source 10)
This in context is the defences effort to clear AEG of wrongdoing and knowledge of Michael’s
condition. However, out of context, the reader could believe this as accurate as it was stated
under oath and in a court of law. In my opinion, in regards of the respect of Jacksons public
representation and ethical rights, the proceedings of the courtroom should not be relayed by the
In my content analysis, I decided to focus on the 2005 paedophilia case against
Jackson, which arguably changed Jacksons perception and image in the media until
his death in 2009.
My main focus where how the media handled these stories legally and ethically and I
compared my different sources. I chose this story as it gained a lot of media attention
at the time and there were many different articles for me to compare and reference
between. I also hoped to gain different viewpoints and perspectives of the case to
see how different newspapers and magazines targeted different demographics and
I also looked at the documentary, ‘Living With Michael Jackson as this was used as
evidence in the trial and was highly interesting as it was a vital effort of Michael
Jackson to alter his representation in the media. However, this was used against him
in a court of law and according to Jackson, ‘altered to portray him in a negative light’.
Content analysis findings
In my content analysis I found that there was quite candid descriptions of the accusations and the
proceedings within the court.
NYTimes (Source 1) gave a descriptive insight into what the set up of the court looked like and how
Jackson ‘dabbed his eye with a tissue’ and his lawyer ‘sobbed quietly’. This was a somewhat
positive portrayal of Jackson as it showed he displayed some emotion to the trial. However, some
could interpret this display of emotion as guilt or worry of conviction.
The article by NY Daily News (Source 2) is more direct with its allegations and uses an unnamed
source. The article included a picture of Jackson and various other children at an arcade, where
the photo was sourced from CCTV. According to the PCC code of conduct concerning children,
this broke the PCC law, ‘The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under
16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.’ However, as this is an American
press release, the legislation is partially relevant.
Content analysis findings
The Guardian (Source 3) also portrayed a quite negative view of Jackson with an image juxtaposing
underlying text. It appears that he cares more about his fans than he cares about the proceedings
of the court case.
This comes across as a deliberate attempt to show Jackson
negatively. Alongside this is description of some of the allegations
against Jackson, which include molestation of a child. Although this
was told in a court of law, I believe this is a legal and ethical issue as
it should stayed within the court and this therefore damages Jacksons media portrayal further.
I viewed the Jackson documentary on Vimeo (Source 4) and although the documentary featured
Jackson speaking predominantly, it appeared Bashir was quite aggressive with his questions and
seemed to believe Jackson was guilty of the allegations. This made the documentary biased and
unbalanced as Bashir was subjective, entering the documentary with his own strong opinions.
My focus group was formed of 3 people; 3 girls between the ages of
17-18 and I chose this demographic as they are generally known
for their heavy consumption of the media.
I began the focus group by finding out about what they all individually
knew about Jacksons death and how they viewed in the media,
what they thought about Jacksons image in the media and if they
believed Jackson played a part in how he was represented.
I then presented three sources for the
group to look at which were two front covers
from The Sun (Source 4) and
OK! Magazine (Source 3).
However, I did use quite captivating and
arguably, subjective images to begin
a discussion and engage an interesting debate.
1. Did you watch any coverage about Michael Jackson’s death such as the funeral, the memorial service? If so how did
I found the general consensus to be shock in terms of the loss of Jackson's life but respect for the portrayal the media
showcased at the time. It was agreed all round that the coverage was generally positive. However, they felt they ‘went back’
on the way they represented him when he was alive, which was mostly negative.
2. Did you think Michael Jacksons image was skewed by the media? Do you believe he played a part in his
His character of someone quite eccentric made him quite vulnerable to the media, the group said. They agreed that he did play a
part in his portrayal when he did put himself out there in terms of documentaries and publicity stunts. However, he was not
the only factor. His family played a part and so did people who were close friends e.g Macaulay Culkin.
3. In Source 1 (The OK! magazine cover), do you think the text and picture link or juxtapose?
The group felt that the picture of Michael close to death or dead, alongside text stating ‘World Exclusive’ was an infringement to
Michaels privacy and his legal and ethical rights. It was agreed that a different photo should've been used, in order to
remember Michael Jackson during concert or in a professional photo shoot for example.
4. What do you think about the Sun’s depiction of Michael Jackson? What do you think of Jacksons body being on the front cover?
Similarly, they agreed that the photo was unacceptable for the front cover of the newspaper. They also spoke about the colloquial language
used such as ‘death pic’ and ‘Jacko’ as disrespectful and are bad representations. It doesn’t give much information and doesn’t serve
5. Did you think that any of the sources breached Michael Jacksons ethical rights? Which of the three do you think did the most,
the least and why? Did these publishings invade into his privacy?
Out of all three sources, Source 3 (Michael’s will) was seen to be the biggest breach of Michaels ethical rights. The file is able to be accessed
on-line and downloaded within seconds. Personal and private information is able to be seen and the group believed this was even more of
an ethical breach as his children’s information was also able to be seen.
6. Do you think this breaks any UK laws? Do you think the law should be tightened to prevent such publications being shown in
future or is it our right to see such things?
The group believed these sources did break UK laws as it invaded his privacy. They did not agree that the public have a right to know all
about those in the public eye, and they should have boundaries of how much information is divulged about them. They said that the
magazines and newspapers should have been sued or asked for damages. They also commented that a law should be made to make
such images not be released again in respect for his family and also for his fans.
7. Overall, what is your general view on the media representation of not only Michael Jackson but his family?
The general view was that the representation of Michel is detrimental to his children and is damaging. As Michael Jackson is not around to
defend himself after death, it is therefore unfair and a considerable breach to his ethical rights.
The third element of my primary research was to compile a questionnaire which asked
fellow peers about their knowledge of Michael Jackson, before and after his death. I
also looked into how they reacted to the media coverage in the following days and
months after his death and their view into this, which will follow into my final report.
In my questionnaire findings, I surveyed 12 different people with the following
questionnaire. I surveyed people from the ages of 16-40 and 9 women and 3 men
As the quantitative results show, it was conclusive that all of the respondents
questioned felt that the media treats and almost puts a ‘celestial’ view on
celebrities once they die. Some viewed the media and print
magazines/newspapers using the death as a sensation to sell or maximize
their reader intake, referring back to Source 3. This therefore leads the
question if the press are too invasive into celebrities privacy, and should
there be laws implemented to prevent the press from using their private
information to gain a gross profit. One respondent commented,’They’re just
Many of the respondents agreed but suggested the media were ‘hypocritical’
due to the treatment of Jackson during his lifetime, especially in the case of
the Martin Bashir documentary.
Almost of the respondents I questioned responded that in the following weeks
and months following Michael's death, they saw albums released more than
10 years ago or ‘Greatest Hits’ of the star bound into the Top 10 charts.
There were extensive plays of Jacksons music also played on the radio, in
the following week after his death, commemorating the musician. Whilst on
music channels, there were special commemorative programs remembering
What I did not find in my primary
• I interviewed mainly the demographic of 17-18 as this is the demographic I
fall into and relate to. However, I could have interviewed an older bracket
to gain a more accurate and balanced view as they were old enough to
remember more of the coverage.
• Although I believe I gained quite a balanced view on the percival of
Michael Jackson in my questionnaire, I could of added more commentary
questions alongside the selective choice as this would of contextualized
my answers further, aiding my research.
What I did not find in my secondary
• Whilst my sources focused more on print media, I could have incorporated
new media such as YouTube and social networks such as Facebook and
Twitter, looking at how he was represented by bloggers or the general
public who are not constrained by the same rules and regulations that the
• I could of looked even further into the history of Jackson in the media and
some of the controversy caused more by Jackson himself (e.g the dangling
of his son over his hotel balcony, his change of skin colour, the hyperbaric
oxygen chamber rumours in 1986
I found my secondary research sources by focusing and searching different
topics including the Conrad Murray trial, the death of Michael Jackson and
Michael Jackson court cases. Using them in my final report, helped give me
a wide scope to understand the representation of Michael Jackson in the
media after his death.
I tried to make sure all of my sources were mostly reliable and did not use
blogging sites as they are not regulated by the PCC and the views stated
are subjective to the author of the blog. However, I did look into a columnist
from the the Guardian’s opinion to gain a counter argument on one of my
sources depicting Jackson unconscious on a hospital trolley. I later showed
the same image to respondents in my focus group as part of my primary
research to add to that view.
Conducting my secondary research at the beginning of my findings helped me
understand more about my topic, which then gave me to confidence to hold
a focus groups. My research into print media prompted me with questions I
wanted to put forward to an audience to gain a more balanced view,
alongside my own.
Although I felt that my secondary research really aided me to continue with my
primary research, I would of added a video source to balance the
representation shown in print. For example, such as an interview or a
recording captured by the media. I would of looked at how it was edited, if it
was known to been recorded and the publisher and their reliability.
However, I did analyse a video source in my content analysis, the
documentary ‘Living With Michael Jackson’.
Using a focus group, questionnaires and conducting a content analysis greatly aided my research as
it helped me gain a more balanced view of how different demographics felt about my topic. I also
compared qualitative against quantitative research also, for example graphs compiled from results
and commentary from my focus group. This supported my secondary research and I used some of
my secondary research to use as examples to put forward to my respondents.
The majority of my respondents were in the same demographic as I (17-18) and I chose people with
varying psychographics to balance out my findings. I decided to do this because 17-18 year olds
are dominant social media users and avid users of technology, gaining them consistent and
instant access to the news. Therefore, I gained varied and thorough answers. However, I could of
asked more respondents of the 25-40 demographic who were more aware of the 2005 court case
and also his death, where the demographic I mainly targeted may not remember as well due to
However, I will take into consideration that the views I collected and used for my research were
subjective and based of more opinion than fact. I also used quite shocking and somewhat
subjective material to gain more a opinion and debate among my respondents. However, I feel
that aided my focus group in becoming more in depth and illustrated.
Although I am a fan of Jackson, I made sure to remain objective and not subjective, allowing
the respondents to give their own answers. That meant I could not ask leading questions
and push people into saying certain things. The only time I pushed for an answer was in
my focus group, to help continue the discussion and make sure everyone had a fair chance
to speak. However, to make my focus group better I would have possibly had more males
to make it a more balanced discussion. Although, in my questionnaire, I made sure there
were male respondents with 9 women and 3 men.
In conclusion, I have discovered a vast amount about how and why the media represents not
only Jackson but those in the public eye in general. The media makes financial gain by
altering perception and creating selling points for ‘exclusive material’, which is usually
originally private or taken without the celebrity’s consent. However, a celebrity is also
responsible for their own representation in the media and they can change it by
participating in interviews, documentaries or photoshoots. However, in regards of Michael
Jackson, doing so changed his media reputation in the public eye indefinitely.
List of sources
1. Author N/A, 28 October 2013,Conrad Murray released from prison after serving two years, The Guardianavaliable from:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/28/michael-jackson-doctor-conrad-murray-released, accessed on 12 February 2014
2.Author N/A, 26 June 2009, Michael Jackson found dead, available from:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8119993.stm, accessed on 19
3. Jacquie Bowser, 30 June 2009, OK! Magazine pays $500k for ‘death photo’ of Michael Jackson, Brand Republic, avaliable from
http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/916601/OK-magazine-pays-500k-death-photo-Michael-Jackson/, accessed on 19 February
4. Roy Greenslade, 28 September 2011, Do you find The Sun’s Michael Jackson picture offensive?, The Guardian, available from:
http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2011/sep/28/sun-michaeljackson, accessed on 19 February 2014
5. Riazat Butt and agencies, 10 November 2011, Conrad Murray uses TV interview to defend his actions, The Guardian, avaliable from:
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/nov/10/michael-jackson-doctor-tv-interview, accessed on 28 February 2014
6. Sean Michaels, 11 November 2011, Michael Jackson’s family call on MSNBC to cancel Conrad Murray documentary, The Guardian,
avaliable from http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/nov/11/michael-jackson-family-conrad-murray, accessed on 28 February
7.Author N/A, 7 July 2002, Michael Jacksons will available for viewing online, available from:
http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_documents/jackson_will.pdf, accessed on 18 March 2014
8. Sean Michaels, 29 November 2013, Conrad Murray gives interviews to the media, revealing sensitive information, The Guardian, avaliable
from: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/nov/29/michael-jackson-doctor-cease-desist, accessed on 19 March 2014
9.Rory Carroll, 3 April 2013, Michael Jackson’s life to be laid bare once more in $40bn court battle, The Guardian, avaliable from:
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/apr/03/michael-jackson-wrongful-death-lawsuit, accesed on 19 March 2014
10. Rory Caroll, 1 May 2013, Michael Jackson trial: defence warns jury of singer’s ‘darkest secrets, The Guardian, avaliable from:
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/apr/30/michael-jackson-trial-darkest-secrets, accessed on 19 March 2014
11. Associated Press LA, 3 September 2013,Michael Jackson emails show promoter concern about singer’s well-being, The Guardian,
available from:http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/sep/03/michael-jackson-emails-promoter-concern, accessed on 19
12. Jeff Gottlieb, 15 January 2014,Michael Jackson estate settles ‘This Is It’ tour lawsuit, LA Times, available
accessed on 19 March 2014
13. Press Complaints Commission, 1 January 2012, The Editors Code of Conduct, The Press Complaints Commission, available from:
http://www.pcc.org.uk/assets/696/Code_of_Practice_2012_A4.pdf, accessed on 22 April 2014
14. Author N/A, 1 July 2009, Last Will of Michael Joseph Jackson, The Smoking Gun, available from:
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/last-will-michael-joseph-jackson, accessed on 22 April 2014
Content analysis links:
1. John M. Broder and Nick Madigan, 14 June 2005, Michael Jackson Cleared After 14-Week Child Molesting Trial, NY Times., available
from:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/14/national/14jackson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, accessed on 9 April 2014
2. Rich Schapro, 30 June 2013, Michael Jackson spent $35 million to cover up molestation of 24 boys: report, NY Daily News, avaliable from
avaliable from on 9 April 2014
3. Dan Glaister, 1 March 2005, Michael Jackson sexually abused boy at Neverland ranch, court told, The Guardian, available
from:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/mar/01/media.michaeljacksontrial, accessed on 11 April 2014
4.’omouallem’, 21 April 2010, Living With Michael Jackson, Vimeo, available from:https://vimeo.com/5434340, accessed on 12 April 2014