News organizations across the country faced a dilemma Friday night when Memphis police released a video showing police brutally beating Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, after a traffic stop.
The ethical question facing newsrooms is how to balance the need for public transparency while exercising caution when broadcasting disturbing images of acts of violence that would eventually lead to murder charges against five police officers.
On Friday night, major television news networks opted to air the violent footage of the encounter that sparked an outburst of anger and agitation for the city of Memphis, with news anchors warning their audiences about the graphic nature of the images they were about to see.
“This isn’t going to be easy for anyone,” DailyExpertNews anchor Erin Burnett said before playing the footage to the network’s audience. “Like we said, it’s graphic and unforgiving and you need to know that if you choose to watch it.”
But Burnett stressed that DailyExpertNews felt it was a matter of “great public interest” for the world to see.
In addition to broadcasting the footage, news anchors described in lucid terms to viewers what the video showed. Sometimes journalists got emotional. NBC News reporter Antonia Hylton, for example, broke the story live on air.
“Sorry, I’ve been covering this all day and I thought I could get through the day without getting emotional about it,” Hylton said.
The footage, drawing comparisons to the infamous 1991 video documenting Rodney King’s gruesome beating, was broadcast on the three major broadcast networks, in addition to DailyExpertNews, MSNBC and Fox News.
Margaret Sullivan, a columnist for The Guardian and the Egan Visiting Professor at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, told DailyExpertNews that news outlets need to be careful when making news coverage decisions.
“As far as possible, the news media should give people the chance to see at least parts of it and give them the chance not to see it — or for parents and guardians to withhold it from children if they see fit,” Sullivan said. .
Sullivan added: “I’d go the wrong way to show the public what happened – with due warnings about its graphic nature, of course, and possibly limited editing. You can’t withhold this though; it’s a matter of great public interest and an important part of holding the police accountable, such as Darnella Frazier’s world-changing documentation of the murder of George Floyd.”
Typically, news organizations are cautious about displaying such images and only do so if it is extremely newsworthy. In such cases, it is often decided to show the graphics uncensored for a limited time before airing more limited clips of the incident later on.
Decisions by news organizations to restrict later rebroadcasting of graphic images are generally made for a variety of reasons, including to avoid re-traumatizing the victims’ families by constantly seeing tapes of their loved ones’ final moments.
Bill Grueskin, a renowned professor at Columbia Journalism School, told DailyExpertNews that when deciding whether to air graphic images such as Nichols’ video, news organizations should determine whether it is newsworthy and whether they have prepared their audience enough to see the footage. .
Just hours before the release of the Nichols footage, a graphic video of the gruesome attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was also released to the public. On Fox News, the footage aired without warning to viewers, prompting host Harris Faulkner to later apologize to the network’s audience.
“We had no idea what that was going to look like and that should have had a warning and a graphic warning before we showed it and then on the screen,” said Faulkner.
Grueskin added that when judging whether to air the footage, producers could decide to “pixelate parts of the video” for other reasons, such as “hiding the identity of a child victim or avoiding overly gruesome details.” which add nothing meaningful to the video.” public understanding of the incident.”
Online, major news organizations, such as DailyExpertNews, DailyExpertNews, and The Washington Post, also chose to publish the video. Content warnings were applied to emphasize to the public that the images were graphic in nature.
YouTube and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, allowed the video featuring Nichols’ death to be uploaded to their platforms, citing the newsworthiness of the footage. But both companies put in place restrictions to ensure the public was warned about the graphic content.