L.A. TV stations’ restraint in covering an outburst of urban violence Monday was strictly news judgment, not a reaction to criticism of last spring’s riot coverage, exex said yesterday.

Network and independent stations refrained from live coverage of the melee that followed a peaceful afternoon demonstration at the riot’s flash point.

“The story wasn’t that big,” said Warren Cereghino, news director for KTLA-TV. “My decision to not try to interrupt programming (was because) the story wasn’t big enough, and didn’t get big enough.”

Many stations had aerial shots of rock- and bottle-throwing protesters: At least eight TV helicopters sent to the scene forced Los Angeles Intl. Airport to assign a special controller to monitor the traffic.

But the footage showed up as tape on regularly scheduled newscasts. It was in sharp contrast to the blanket riot coverage that exposed residents to live, vivid pictures of looting and violence.

Live shots on 11 p.m. broadcasts showed police in control of the intersection. “We covered the story on its merits,” said KCBS-TV’s John Lippman. “It was a different story than the riot story.

“In April, the story and the reason for live coverage was (the lack) of police response. Here, there was police response.”

Roger Bell, news director at KABC-TV, said his station waited until its regular 5 p.m. newscast to broadcast tape of the incident. There had been earlier coverage of the peaceful protest.

“We showed a great deal of restraint,” just as the station did during the riots, he said. He said KABC did not immediately go live when rioting flared after police officers were acquitted of beating motorist Rodney King.

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