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Footage of Journalists’ Homicides?

by on December 8, 2015

In August 2015, two journalists at a broadcasting station in Virginia died from fatal gunshot wounds while interviewing a subject, who was also shot but survived. The shootings, by a former employee of the station, were caught on camera during broadcast. Afterward, the footage of the homicides were published in many publications

This struck a chord for many people who contested the use of the footage for journalistic purposes, because of its exploitative nature. Using Twitter as a platform, which this article represents through its Storify, many individuals argued their opinions. One individual, Jesse Kloskey, raised a point of the larger political issue and the need not to censor for educational purposes: “people need to see, and understand, what failure to properly regulate guns looks like.” Another individual, John Delva, brought up that this is large part of the honest portrayal of the event, so it would be ultimately dishonest to exclude it from the piece: “Showing it paints a picture of the story. All news pictures and art do so why should this item be any different?”

But others expressed their concern. Rikki Mitchell said: “Disappointed in any news outlet that thinks airing that video serves a purpose.” Eva Ruth Moravec said: “I wonder what journalistic service this provides. Let’s share suspect’s picture instead.”

Does it change anything that the victims are journalistic? One person, Jim Wilhelm, said: “If it weren’t journalists involved it would’ve been posted as normal reporting. Can’t have double standard.” Is there a double standard here?

The homicides had already been broadcasted, after publications acquired the footage to show, so that is an important detail.

I think, similar to to the recent footage of the San Bernardino footage, this is a matter of public interest vs. privacy. Granted, this was a public taping from a public news source in a public space, that was already being accessed by the public — viewers were watching while it happened, almost 40,000 people, so why should it just be cut from viewing as censorship after the fact?

But, on the flip side, there should be a respect of the privacy of the victims’ and respect for their families, who are grieving and do not deserve, despite its journalistic power, the gruesome and fragile footage of their loved ones to be household viewing material.

I am divided on whether I believe this should be public material or not. It is arguable. I am curious about any thoughts on this matter. I know we discussed the case in which the government through the Exemption 7(c) to FOIA did not disclose the footage of a prisoner’s murder by two other prisoners for the legal trial in respect of the privacy for the dead prisoner’s family — despite the news’s claim that there is not an expectation of privacy at a prison.




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  1. I am also divided regarding the publishing of this video. On one hand, it provides the most honest depiction of the event. No journalist could write something more truthful/exact than the actual video itself. There are no opinions or bias in this video because it is exact truth.

    However, on the other side, I think that the releasing of this video is extremely depressing– especially to the deceased lives/family members. If the deceased were a family member or friend of mine, I would be extremely saddened and upset to see their deaths broadcasted to the world. In addition, this probably isn’t even something I would want to see to begin with, but now it is out of my control. I could flip on the television an it could be on there– I have little control over if I see it. Is a close one’s tragic death something that we would want everyone to be able to see over and over again? To me this seems like a big invasion of that person’s privacy (as they clearly and tragically cannot be here to defend themselves) and an invasion of the family and friends privacy. I suppose a way to get around this is to ask for the immediate family’s permission to post the video, but I still think it would be offensive/an invasion to many other people.

    If this were up to me, I would not have published the video in an attempt to be sensitive to the family and friends of the deceased. I don’t think hurting them is worth the journalistic purpose of the video being shown. The good of giving their family and friends space and comfort outweighs the bad of hiding this from the public in my opinion.

  2. Emily, I find your take on this to be very intriguing. You make a fair point in that a video such as this one leaves viewers with details that simply photos and statements through interviews couldn’t fill in. It does bring a perspective that drives home the notion of why improperly regulated guns is a major issue for our country.

    Something I found troubling about this side of the argument is that people already understand how poor gun regulation can have such a detrimental impact, though maybe not to the same extent.

    If I were in the shoes of a Journalist deciding whether release this video for public viewing, I would be weighing a key journalistic principle. That principle is drawing a balance between the public’s need for information and the potential for harm. That potential for harm is a key factor in this case. This video is extremely harmful to the family and friends of the victim.

    There is little need to be replaying a video of such brutal violence repeatedly. Even playing this video once on live television is unnecessary. The homicides had already been broadcasted before publications began showing these videos. The public could still access these videos if they really were curious. Given the public needs to see the video, it would still be out there for to be accessed. Out of respect to the family of the victim, news networks should have refrained from further displaying the shooting. It’s a whole another debate as to whether the video should have been made public in the first place. Yet News Networks could have prevented further harm by electing not to broadcast the video.

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