In the wake of controversy over what and how much journalists should show of the horrors in Iraq, particularly in recent weeks, the Radio-Television News Directors Association's ethics committee has come up with new guidelines for airing graphic material.
The existing guidelines already say that journalists should treat all the subjects of their coverage, living or dead, with respect, "showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy," but the technology that allows for split second dissemination of such images requires some more thought beforehand, RTNDA concluded.
RTNDA felt the videotaped murder of Nick Berg and the images of Iraqi prisoners, both of which have been aired in some form to mixed ethical reviews, called for some further guidance. It is essentially in the form of a series of questions to ask before you air. They include:
1. What is the journalistic purpose behind broadcasting the graphic content?
2. Is the use of graphic material the only way to tell the story? What are your alternatives?
3. If asked to defend the decision to your audience or the stakeholders in the story, such as a family member, how will you justify your decision?
4. When is the story important enough to justify replaying graphic material?
5. Should you have guidelines or discussions about how to use the graphic material in promos and teases?
A copy of the complete guidelines is available at http://www.rtnda.org/ethics/graphic.shtml.