Agencies urged to put health warnings on violent footage

The guidelines say no one should be forced to watch unedited feeds such as the killing of hostages or the Beslan siege that will not be broadcast

News agencies putting out terrorists’ footage of hostage beheadings in Iraq have been urged to add a health warning for journalists viewing the sickening images.

After the murder of Kenneth Bigley and other hostages who were also beheaded, the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma has posted guidelines on its website for news organisations where journalists have to view and edit the violent material.

They include the suggestion that international news agencies should clearly mark violent video feeds and also asks agencies to consider whether it is “appropriate or necessary at all” to feed images that will not be broadcast.

Only those broadcasters or newspapers that explicitly ask should receive it, the guidelines suggest.

In recent months picture editors have been exposed to footage showing bloodshed in Iraq and the school massacre in Beslan, where more than 300 people were killed, as well as video showing the deaths of hostages in Iraq.

“Even grizzled veterans are saying they have never witnessed so much distressing material in such a short space of time,” said Mark Brayne, the director of Dart Centre, Europe, who has worked with broadcasters including the BBC, helping journalists to deal with trauma in their work.

“Newsrooms have always had to deal with violent images, but there is so much more of it now and less time to recover. Even the veterans are saying this is different, that it’s getting to them in a way it hasn’t in the past.”

The Dart Centre guidelines also suggest that no one should be expected to watch video images that will never be broadcast: “Teams and managers need to agree that it’s OK to switch monitors off, or at least to look away, when it’s known that a particularly violent feed is coming in.” Whenever graphic videos are about to be fed, duty editors should make an announcement over the public address system.

“We hope these guidelines might help organisations and individuals think about how these pictures are handled and develop their own guidelines,” said Brayne, a former BBC World Service journalist.

The guidelines can be viewed at www.dartcentre.org/europe.

LAST-MINUTE TIP-OFF

Liverpool Echo journalists had less than 30 minutes to confirm the rumour that Iraq hostage Kenneth Bigley had been killed on Friday.

Reporters got the tip-off from Reuters at 12.35pm – the paper’s final edition deadline is 1pm. Assistant news editor Gregg Fray said: “We wanted to do a splash and a spread, but we had to firm up these unconfirmed reports.

“We contacted his brother, Paul Bigley, who said he believed the reports were true.

We then spoke to Ken’s cousin at the Bigley home in Liverpool, who told us what the family were going through.”

The paper decided to lead with the headline Bigley ‘dead’ – putting the second word in quotation marks as a precaution.

Confirmation was not received in time for the 4pm deadline to put out an extra 5,000 print run, but the paper’s Saturday morning edition carried seven pages of news and reaction.

By Julie Tomlin

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