The rule at most TV-news operations has stood for decades: Violent images are to be used sparingly, even if they may be of extreme interest to viewers. Fox News Channel has come up with an intriguing way to step around this delicate issue, using digital media to give its audience access to controversial footage.
The 21st Century Fox-owned outlet has provided a link on its FoxNews.com so viewers can see footage of the burning of a Jordanian pilot held hostage by ISIS, the terrorist group that is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which recently been making headlines. A warning sign accompanies the opportunity. The use of digital media to offer viewers the choice to see the footage if desired could stand as a new way for TV-news operations to offer a look at problematic video that likely would prompt backlash if shown on TV.
“After careful consideration, we decided that giving readers of FoxNews.com the option to see for themselves the barbarity of ISIS outweighed legitimate concerns about the graphic nature of the video,” said John Moody, exec VP and executive editor of Fox News, in a statement. “Online users can choose to view or not view this disturbing content.”
The question of putting garish pictures on display has always fostered debate among TV-news outlets. TV, after all, is for the masses: adults and children together, people who tune in for soothing images, escape and relaxation as well as news of the world. But in an era when material that is normally forbidden is passed along easily via social-media outlets, how much longer can TV remain above the fray?
Fox News has run a still image from the footage of the murder released by ISIS, first used on last night’s broadcast of “Special Report With Bret Baier,” which airs in the early evening. “The images are brutal. They are graphic. They are upsetting. You may want to turn away. You may want to have the children leave the room — right now,” Baier told viewers in the moments before the picture was show. “But the reason we’re showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism. And to label it as such. We feel you need to see it.” The network used the image across its Tuesday-night primetime schedule.
Before putting the photo onscreen, Fox News offered viewers a graphic description of the Jordanian’s murder earlier in the day. Shepard Smith watched the full ISIS video, took six pages of notes and then delivered an on-air report about what he saw during his mid-afternoon program, “Shepard Smith Reporting.” “I watched it over the last hour,” Smith told viewers. “Not because I wanted to. I absolutely did not. I watched it because I felt like those of you who wanted to know what’s on it, but don’t want to watch it or be subjected to some sort of gruesome, descriptive adjectives, can get the information.”
Others have grappled with the issue. In September, Time Warner’s CNN displayed a video during early-afternoon program “Legal Views” that showed corpses of people who had been killed by Islamic militants. CNN has also aired audio of one of the English-accented militants who had appeared in ISIS videos circulating at the time showing journalists being beheaded by a member of that group.