News organisations have defended their decisions to broadcast controversial video footage shot in the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack.
The Sun and ITN both obtained videos from members of the public on Wednesday showing one of the attackers brandishing what appears to be a meat cleaver and delivering a politically-charged diatribe moments after he murdered a soldier.
Both videos were later shown on the BBC, with the vast majority of national papers carrying still images from the footage on Thursday’s front pages. ITV, Ofcom and the BBC are understood to have received hundreds of complaints about the decision to air the footage.
Sun managing editor Richard Caseby said that choosing to release the video was “a very difficult decision” but was swayed by the “huge public interest” in the story.
“The editor had close discussions with his backbench team about the treatment of the video and the stills in the print edition,” Caseby told Press Gazette.
“This was very graphic and disturbing content – only this time it was on a suburban English street, not a distant Al Qaeda stronghold.
“Was it too graphic? Would it only serve as propaganda, feeding further outrages?
“These are difficult moral dilemmas played out against tight deadlines, intense competition and a desire to be respectful to the dead and their loved ones.
“But there was a huge public interest in publishing this video, which showed the aftermath of the attack – there was no film of the attack itself. This was in broad daylight and was witnessed by scores of people. It was also important to show how this terrible act appeared to represent a sea change in terror activity in the UK.”
ITN, which was the first organisation to release footage, said it was “editorially justified” to show the film during the 6.30pm broadcast of ITV News.
Both ITV and the BBC issued warnings to viewers before running the footage. Sky News, however, opted not to screen the video.
John McAndrew, executive editor at Sky News, said: “We assessed the video at a senior editorial level – several times. Given the detail we had already learned about the attack, we took the decision not to run the video as we believed it would have been unnecessarily distressing.”
A spokesperson for ITV News said: “We carefully considered showing this footage ahead of broadcast and made the decision to do so on a public interest basis as the material is integral to understanding the horrific incident that took place yesterday.
“It was editorially justified to show such footage in the aftermath of such a shocking attack, and we prefaced it on ITV News at 6.30pm and News at Ten with appropriate warnings to make viewers aware in advance of the graphic images about to be shown.”
Neither The Sun nor ITV News would say whether they paid for their footage.
The video sent ITV’s website into meltdown when it was first uploaded on Wednesday afternoon. The site crashed as people flocked to watch the video though a spokesperson said it was up and running again “within half an hour”.
ITV News said its website attracted 1.2 million unique users on 22 May – the day of the attack. This compares to an average of 860,000 unique users a week so far in 2013.
On Thursday, almost all national papers splashed on images taken from the videos. Only the Daily Express opted out, running a photo of the Duchess of Cambridge instead.
The pictures sparked heated debate on social media. A poll on the Media Blog website showed that 56 per cent of more than 1,100 respondents thought the newspapers were wrong to run the images, with only 36 per cent thinking it was the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, today the Daily Mirror today broadcast new footage showing a shoot-out between police and the two knifemen involved in the attack.