live TV news violence

What shouldn’t be shown on TV, even if it gets good ratings?

In 1998 there was a live broadcast of a man shooting himself in the head on a freeway exchange after a lengthy standoff with police.

That same year TV stations aired live telecasts of a bank robber killing himself.

In 1999, California TV news helicopters broadcast live the police shooting a man who had led them on a freeway chase. This dominated morning TV when many children were home and tuning in to watch cartoons. The chase was aired to its conclusion (the shooting), though no close-up images were aired. The dead man’s mother, ex-wife, and adult daughter were watching as he was shot.

If coverage is live, outcomes cannot be predicted, so viewers cannot be warned about up-coming violence.

Such coverage could be argued to be valuable in that people in the area need to know when streets are closed.

They might also need to know, for safety’s sake, when they should avoid particular streets or intersections.

And this kind of incident is news! The public has an interest in and a right to know about such incidents.

Or… not?

If coverage is live, outcomes cannot be predicted, so there is no way of knowing that someone will be killed or injured live on air. How many live ‘crime’ broadcasts have not ended in death or injury?

I understand your point, but the alternative would be to restrict all live broadcasting on the off-chance that something bad might happen. An associated question might be whether the public’s ‘right to know’ extends to a ‘right to see happen live on TV’.

I think the key words in the OP are “even if it gets good ratings”. What should be the purpose of TV? Is it just to get good ratings? Or is it to disseminate information? Obviously, if TV’s only goal is just to get high ratings, then yes, TV should definitely broadcast, live, everything in the way of “violence” it can get its hands on–murder, rape, incest, infanticide, child molesting, bank robbery, gangland drive-bys, genocide in gas ovens, you name it. Sex and violence is where the ratings are, no question. If the FCC would let them get away with it, I believe the networks would already have been broadcasting “reality shows” of live executions.

But if TV’s goal is to disseminate information, then I fail to see how broadcasting gory violence is helping to do that. They can tell me about the guy shot in the head without having to actually show it.

If I hear gunfire and police sirens in my neighborhood, I don’t rush to my TV to find out what’s going on. TV has too much lag time to be useful for that. I step out on my front porch and ask my neighbors, who are also out on their front porches. I wouldn’t expect the TV to be able to tell me that Grand Avenue was closed while the police had a standoff with robbers down at the White Hen Pantry. I’d find out that Grand was closed the hard way, because I got in my car to try to drive somewhere and discovered that it was closed, with cop cars all around.