Saturday, February 13, 2010

Censoring death

The news is often horrifying. We see awful images and hear about terrible stories each day. But it is a journalist's job to accurately portray life. Newspapers, it is said, are a mirror of society.

But there also should be some restraint in what we see. A news organization rarely will show a dead body lying in the middle of the road because that person's dignity should remain even in death.

So it was shocking to see the fatal crash involving a luger from the Republic of Georgia. The video of Nodar Kumaritashvili being launched from his sled and into a metal pole was chilling. It made me cringe when I saw it for the first time on the CBS Evening News. Then CBS showed it again. And then they showed it a third time, this time in slow motion.

I understand why the news organization decided to broadcast this horrifying moment, but did they have to show it three times? Once was more than enough.

Interestingly, England does not permit news organizations to broadcast images of death. Due to those restrictions, Jacquelin Magnay describes the crash for the UK Telegraph, including her own emotions upon seeing the video.

"I started shaking when I first saw the raw footage," she said.

She also asks the same question as me. Did we really need to see the terrifying last moments of this 21-year-old man's life over and over and over again?

UPDATE: Quite a few people have complained about the coverage.


  1. I saw it once, don't care to see it again. But, I certainly don't want to start laying down rules on the media like the one you mention across the pond.

  2. By no means do I think Britain is right with the government dictating what can and can't be broadcasted on television (although the U.S. government won't allow you to drop the f-bomb on network television). Instead, I think it's up to the news organizations to police themselves. And I think some of them used poor judgment by showing the crash on continuous loops.

    One replay gave viewers more than enough information about the crash. Any more than that is sensationalizing the young man's death.

  3. I didn't see any problem with the exhibition... The video was much more informative than the still shots that were everywhere this weekend. The video normally cut out abruptly as soon as he hit the pole and he actually died at the trauma center (or en route)... according to the reports. So, what they showed, technically, was video of someone withstanding a traumatic injury that would "eventually" lead to his death... it's a weird distinction, but had he died upon impact, I doubt they would have showed it... I think the video was necessary in this story because of a general unfamiliarity with the sport of luge. Reading the reports and seeing the various stills didn't really convey what happened as much as that one camera angle with a live-action feed did. It showed a human body in a state of helpless and reckless inertia and highlighted what some saw as a flaw in the track. This was the biggest news story of the weekend... I think it would have been a disservice if the public were deprived of a clear and concise record of what happened (as video of the event provides) in favor of a rather arbitrary outline of what is or is not decent to show. This same thing could very well have happened on live tv and would have gotten much more in-depth play.

  4. I agree that the video explained what happened better than the still shots. But they showed it multiple times during their reports (back-to-back-to-back). And only recently did they pause it before the moment of impact. On Friday, they were showing the full reel.

    And he was pronounced dead at the trauma center. But he likely died upon impact with the pole. The only thing keeping him "alive" at the scene were chest compressions and CPR.

  5. I don't think it was necessary to show it even once. The description of the event – he crashed, was ejected and hit a pole - should have been sufficient. And as you say, Mike, the guy was essentially dead the moment he hit the pole. Did anyone really need to watch the young man die? I did not see the video at all, and had I been in front of the TV when they showed it, I would have walked out of the room.

  6. I had a severe reaction to watching this video and by seeing it in many ways made it real. In the media we are constantly bobmarded with negative news to the point that in many ways we are desensitized to it. I completely agree that by showing it over and over and over again was completely unneeded but I wonder if for many people, it allowed them to look at that image and truly feel pain, versus the normal reaction of another one bites the dust.