TV station offers use of helicopter to police
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/22/2000 8:00:00 PM
When Des Moines police searched for a missing woman earlier this month, they had a helicopter available. Not theirs; who-tv's.
In an unusual move, the Des Moines station has offered its news chopper-the only one in the market-for police use. Police in various parts of the country have hitched rides on broadcasters 'helicopters in emergencies, but the unsolicited offer from the station is rare, if not unique. While cooperation is encouraged in the interest of public safety, journalism ethicists generally frown on news organs' working too closely with police for fear of being seen as an arm of the law, and potentially compromising the independence of the press.
"I don't see a conflict," said Mike Bock, president and general manager of the station. "We would never do anything to jeopardize our ability to report the news."
For Bock, the offer is rooted in the station's commitment to the community, but, he adds, "we're not offering it categorically, for any given use or time." As WHO-TV sees it, in addition to meeting a civic call, there's the opportunity for a front-row seat at some police-driven news events.
Police will have no say in the station's use of its own cameras or its tapes, Bock says. And if there's a conflict with another news event, the station will make the call as to whether to respond to police requests "based on our journalistic values."
Bock says he intends to consult journalism ethics sources, such as the Poynter Institute, for guidance. Poynter's Bob Steele notes that "the goals of law enforcement are different from the goals of journalism. It's extremely difficult to reconcile those goals. There's bound to be tension and conflict. Journalists should not ignore their role as citizens in the community, but their professional obligations include being independent when reporting on government and law enforcement."
Dave Busiek, news director at KCCI(TV) Des Moines, says who-tv's chopper has pushed his station toward one of its own. Would kcci make a similar arrangement with police? "I don't think we would," he said. "It's important to have a good working relationship with law enforcement, but, to me, that crosses the line."
Kcci would, Busiek said, consider aiding police as other stations do, on a case-by-case basis. "Common sense has to prevail, but it's best not to blur the lines" between police and journalists, he said.
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