Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why NBC telecast Virginia Tech shooter's video

On Monday, a gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, entered the Virginia Tech campus, sprayed bullets at random killing 33 persons, most of them students. This is the worst shooting rampage in American history, and it has set off a discussion on that nation's infamous gun culture.

On Wednesday, NBC received a package containing a rambling and often incoherent 23-page written statement from Cho, 28 video clips and 43 photos — many of them showing Cho brandishing handguns. A Postal Service time stamp reads 9:01 a.m. — between the two attacks on campus. The video has disturbing texts, audio and video clippings in which Cho explains the background to his gruesome act. The package solved the mystery of the 2-hour gap between the first burst of gunfire, at a high-rise dorm, and the second attack, at a classroom building.

According to a news report: "Some of the pictures in the video package show him smiling; others show him frowning and snarling. Some depict him brandishing two weapons at a time, one in each hand. He wears a khaki-coloured military-style vest, fingerless gloves, a black T-shirt, a backpack and a backward, black baseball cap. Another photo shows him swinging a hammer two-fisted. Another shows an angry-looking Cho holding a gun to his temple."

At times of such catastrophic events, news media too get involved in a parallel debate on how such events are covered. NBC's decision, after careful deliberations, to air portions of the footage, has triggered such a debate now. Many networks, like Fox, have decided not to show the footage.

NBC says select portions were aired so that America understands why Cho did what he did, and the nation takes cues from it to avoid a similar tragedy in future. But others felt it was an insensitive move. In fact, the family members of victims cancelled plans to appear on NBC's "Today" show because they "were very upset" with the network for showing the pictures.

In such cases, I believe, there is no readymade formula that can be applied. Probably NBC is as much right as others who didn't show it. Because, how right it is to show such clippings depends on how much is shown and in what manner; meaning, the commentary and programme format that can make a big difference to the impact of such visuals.

Today, Poynter Institute faculty members Al Tompkins, Jill Geisler, Kelly McBride and Bob Steele gathered to discuss NBC's decision. Listen to the podcast of the discussion here. There is also an explanation by the NBC why it went ahead with the telecast.

1 comment:

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