Graphic content: When is it worth airing?

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Case study by Olivia Chandler, Katerina Georgieva, Gregory Furgala and Kieran Delamont

January 2017

Introduction

On the morning of November 1, 2016, a young male entered Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia and stabbed two teenagers at random. A bystander caught the incident on video, which showed one victim on the ground, trying to wrestle the suspect off of her while being stabbed. Her screams are clearly audible.

Shortly after the stabbing, journalists in the CBC British Columbia newsroom began to hear reports that something potentially fatal had occurred at the Abbotsford high school, and that police were on the scene. “That always obviously is going to get a lot of attention because [there are] young people being involved,” CBC British Columbia executive producer Karen Burgess says. “If there’s some kind of ongoing threat, then obviously we consider there to be a very high public interest in that.” Eventually, they learned that a suspect was in custody and that two people were injured.

Later that afternoon, Burgess was in the middle of a meeting when she was interrupted by a colleague, who told her that a former CBC British Columbia intern had come across a video on social media and sent it along to the assignment desk. The video had come to the assignment desk in an email. Burgess and Alison Broddle, the executive producer for digital, both did an “over the shoulder viewing” of the video around 4:30 p.m. “It’s one of those things, you watch it a couple of times, and try and determine what exactly it is you are looking at,” explains Burgess. [1]

By the afternoon, one girl was dead and the other was in hospital being treated for her injuries.

“As soon as we determined that this was an actual video—not just kind of police scene and flashing lights and crime scene tape… but was an actual depiction of the crime itself, then the discussions became very much different,” says Burgess.

CBC had to make a decision about how to handle this footage. Burgess and her team had to decide whether airing it would be gratuitous or newsworthy.

***The following video shows the Abbotsford stabbing incident. It is the video at the centre of this case study. It is extremely graphic and may be upsetting to some people. Case study readers do NOT need to watch this video in order to appreciate the facts and issues of this case.***



NEXT: 1. Global goes to air: “‘Have you no souls? Have you no heart?’”

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