Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Cho Tapes: Having it Both Ways

The day after, nearly every broadcast network has drawn a line in the sand about further airings of the Cho tapes. While reserving the right to air them in whatever way merited in the future, they are saying enough is enough, sometimes in very strong terms.

The statements are all at TVNewser, the best outlet for breaking news about TV news, and I quote them all from that source.

NBC: "Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime."
It used to be that news organizations risked doing irresponsible things for competitive reasons against only other news organizations. Now the argument is extended to the point that if it is on YouTube, it is fair game.

FNC: "We believe that 18 hours after they were first broadcast and distributed via the Internet, our news viewers have had the opportunity to see the images and draw their own conclusions about them. We see no reason to continue assaulting the public with these disturbing and demented images."

ABC: "We are planning to severely limit the use of the video. Obviously in the first news cycle there's some breaking news value to that video. But once that first news cycle has passed, the repetition of it is little more than pornography."

Nothing at this writing from CBS.

No Control Point?

If a key argument for the network use of this video is that "there is no control point anymore," as Jeff Jarvis argues, why show any restraint -- and issue statements about why you are showing restraint? Could have it have anything to do with pushback, like the decision by some victim's families to cancel appearances on NBC?

It is short-sighted to suggest that digital ubiquity of material on one medium (the Internet) forces changes to the news editing criteria on another (television). Responsible people have to act responsibly. The discussion has to be whether airing even portions of the raw video on network television is right or wrong, and whether the video could have been edited in such a way that its poison was extracted (no audio, snippets of phrases on screen, voice-overs). Only children argue that they should be allowed to do something because Billy can.

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're Ignoring Them

Does the medium matter? Of course. I can avoid anything I want on the Internet (even video, which I must proactively play). But unless I am quick on the remote-draw or TiVo everything, TV immerses me in what its programmers want me to experience.

It used to be that news organizations risked doing irresponsible things for competitive reasons against only other news organizations — ABC has the tape so CBS might as well run with it. Bad enough. Now the argument is extended to the point that if it is on YouTube, it is fair game.

So why are news organizations not showing enemy videos of US forces being blown up, plentiful on the Internet, while simultaneously complaining that they can’t take pictures of body bags of our returning dead?

There may be a good reason why the Cho video has news value and blown up coalition forces do not. But that is the debate I want to hear — not the shrug, the upturned hands and the "Well, what can we do?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is good that people are encouraging to look at both sides of the picture.

Noting that some comments are clearly charitable towards NBC, one wonders what you would have advised your readers if Cho Seung Hui's package was sent to Doha instead to be aired by Aljazeera?

What will you suggest to those who pursue the cure of their paranoic delusions by persecuting the press? and To the reaction of the alarmists?