Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The nation's media must learn lesson of VT deaths

By Llian Wang 王泰俐

Cho Seung-hui, the culprit behind the killing spree at Virginia Tech on April 16, video-taped a statement about the massacre at the university and mailed it to the television network NBC midway through his shooting rampage. When the parcel unexpectedly arrived at NBC, it was a morbid temptation for the station's management.

For the next 12 hours, the station was torn between viewer ratings and journalistic ethics. Finally, after an intense seven-hour closed-door debate, NBC management decided to inform the FBI and Virginia State Police and hand over the DVD and the associated material to law enforcement officers, keeping copies and continuing their analysis to confirm its authenticity.

Not until after the police announced in the afternoon that NBC had received the parcel from Cho and agreed to NBC airing it did the network air the footage that evening after carefully editing out offensive and sensational footage.

Despite this cautious handling, because this was the worst campus shooting incident in US history and it touched on the sensitive topic of ethnic conflict, it was not surprising to see NBC overwhelmed by a wave of sharp criticism from academic circles and society as a whole for broadcasting Cho's video.

What was unexpected, however, was that this media controversy -- which is being so hotly debated in the US -- has been used by TVBS to quell criticism of its mishandling of the gangster footage scandal. TVBS, when reporting news about the Virginia Tech shootings, has stressed that in the pursuit of the truth even internationally known NBC chose to broadcast the highly controversial footage.

When commenting on NBC's coverage, Taiwan's Satellite Television Broadcasting Association (STBA), a media watchdog which has hardly ever dealt with media discipline since its establishment, actually said that NBC's broadcast of Cho's images was as terrible as the gangster footage filmed and directed by TVBS reporters, and that since each country follows different criteria for media control, the association is now at a loss as to what to do.

I can not agree with this rationale.

The NBC and TVBS incidents are totally different in nature. It was not NBC that filmed Cho's video footage. Instead, it was Cho himself who sent the video he shot to NBC. TVBS' gangster footage was shot by the station's own reporters who then lied to the police saying they had received the video from the gangster.

In short, TVBS claim that it received the parcel from the gangster was not true, and that's why police are still investigating who actually instigated the video in the first place. Compared with NBC's handling of Cho's video, TVBS' handling of the gangster video is not a comparable circumstance.

The TVBS video footage has tarnished the image of Taiwan's TV stations and damaged public trust in the media. At this juncture, do we really need the illogical pairing of these events?

The nation's media should learn from NBC's cautious handling of the Cho footage before it decided to broadcast it and from the way other US media outlets showed self restraint and self discipline after NBC's airing caused severe criticism. We viewers should learn from the civic awareness displayed by Americans who refused to watch these violent images and the parents of victims and the school staff who protested by refusing to perform previously agreed-upon interviews.

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