There is a new letter from Tony Burman (left), Editor In Chief of CBC News, posted at the CBC web site. I interviewed Burman two days ago about CBC coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, and you can read the entry two posts down. His column today offers a thoughtful reflection on how CBC has covered this tragedy. I urge you to read it.
For now, I draw your attention to the postscript that Burman attached to this column, after news of the manifesto package came to light. It's powerful stuff and I have copied it below:
Postscript: On Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after this column was written and posted, NBC News in New York announced it had received in the mail a package from the killer. It contained a compilation of 27 video clips, 43 still photos of him holding guns and a hammer and a largely incoherent 'manifesto' explaining why he had done it. On its evening newscast, NBC ran several minutes of excerpts, and this video has been rebroadcast by a multitude of other networks. At the CBC, we debated the issue throughout the evening and made the decision that we would not broadcast any video or audio of this bizarre collection. On CBC Television, Radio and CBC.ca, we would report the essence of what the killer was saying, but not do what he so clearly hoped all media would do. To decide otherwise - in our view -would be to risk copycat killings. Speaking personally, I have long admired NBC News and I am sure my admiration of their journalists will endure. But I think their handling of these tapes was a mistake. As I watched them last night, sickened as I'm sure most viewers were, I imagined what kind of impact this broadcast would have on similarly deranged people. In horrific but real ways, this is their 15 seconds of fame. I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts.
Today, I received the following internal memo, sent by Burman to all CBC journalists. It reflects nicely the messages contained in Burman's column, and shows that CBC really is walking the talk. I don't publish every internal memo that crosses my desk but have no hesitation in using this one, since it reflects so well on both Burman and his network.
To all CBC news and current affairs staff, and contributors-
As most of you probably know by now, CBC News has decided NOT to broadcast any of the pictures or sound from the collection the Virginia Tech killer sent to NBC News. Our reporting of this should be limited to saying, in words, the essence of his largely incoherent message. It can be accompanied, as it was on last night's National, with a straight head-on freeze frame of his picture, but not those showing him brandishing the guns, hammer, etc.
This applies to all CBC programs and services on Television, Newsworld, Radio and CBC.ca.
Our interest here is to ensure that our coverage of this story does not have the unintended effect of encouraging copycat killings. There's a fuller discussion of this in the CBC.ca 'letter' I posted yesterday on this subject. I urge that you read it. It was written a fews hours before the NBC tapes became known, so I added a 'postscript' this morning at the bottom to deal with this part of the story.
I have attached it here (below). I also suggest you check out the link because the reader responses, which I am certain will grow during the day, are quite illuminating.
I am sure that you will note that CBC's handling of this issue is quite different from most of the other broadcast and print media, and I hope you're not uncomfortable with this. Canmadians expect a lot from the CBC, and we need to live up to those expectations. There is no place in heaven for journalists who merely follow the pack, and there's no patience anymore for the 'garbage-in/garbage-out' theory of 'news'. We don't simply transmit that which falls on our head: we make editorial
choices every moment of our day, and they need to be the correct ones.
I think that with this decision - as well as last week's handling of the Afghan hostage video, which I wrote about on Monday- - Canadians are telling us that we have made the right call.
Thank you and onward,
While CBC is taking some brave and principled steps in the right direction, I have come to the conclusion that we need a legislated solution in both Canada and the U.S. There should be an outright ban on the publication of the killer's name, photo or homemade video. We can discuss the contents of the manifesto, as long as we don't mention other killers' names. Just deny them their 15 seconds of fame. I know I am tilting at windmills here, and I don't expect either country to impose such "limits" on freedom of speech. But I feel strongly about this, enough to keep repeating the message. And I ask you: do we really need to know the killer's name and see his face?