Airing disturbing content doesn’t have to be a matter of airing all or airing nothing.
There are always alternatives to showing a video in its full form. Krop’s team, for example, blurred parts of the video when they aired it. In an earlier newscast, they opted to have a reporter describe the video. Still images, or even a series of still images, can also function to communicate the content while minimizing potential distress and harm to viewers and individuals associated with the event. In another case, CBC obtained the video of the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. Castile was shot by a police officer while in the driver’s seat of his car. His girlfriend sat next him and her daughter was in the back seat. His girlfriend shared the video via Facebook live. This was particularly newsworthy as it was one of a string of high-profile police shootings of black men in the United States. When CBC producers chose to air the video of the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting, they decided to blur out his injuries.
Esther Enkin explains that “blurring, generally is a compromise between, ‘We can’t use it, it’s too disturbing,’ and saying, ‘This is what it’s really all about.’”
CBC’s Castile video was also preceded by a graphic content warning. “If [disturbing content] is used, it is to be preceded by a fairly explicit warning,” Enkin says. This way, the audience has a choice. The content is available to them, but it’s not being forced on them.
Online, stories often have trigger warnings at the top of the page before the reader proceeds to read the story. Here is a CBC disclaimer used in a story about Alan Kurdi:
Similarly, an anchor can warn a viewer watching a newscast that they might find what they are about to see to be disturbing. This gives the audience a choice to look away. However, Bulgutch says he does not believe in warnings and argues that “newscasts are for grown-ups.”
Enkin also addressed the matter of posting content like this online. She stated that it’s very important to set it up in such a way that people have to click in order for the video to play, as opposed to automatically playing. “I think the notion that you have to click means there is an element of letting people decide for themselves,” she explained.
Next: 7. The decision point