Death on TV

by brendan on 02/12/2010

Is it okay to knowingly broadcast somebody’s death on TV? I may be numb to most violence on TV, but something about showing an actual death just doesn’t sit well with me.

I read online today that Georgian Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a tragic Luge accident. He appears to have been going upwards of 90 mph when he took a turn too high and lost control of his sled, throwing him from the track and into an unpadded metal column. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at a local hospital, but from the described efforts to “revive” Nodar by first responders on the scene, I would say there is good chance he was killed on impact.

A quick Google search yields no shortage of videos showing Nodar’s death. Some preface the video with a warning about the graphic nature, and some don’t. CNN ran a video showing the last few frames before impact – so they showed a man about to lose his life. And my local NBC affiliate ran an evening news story accompanied by the full video, with no warning to viewers of how graphic the video might be.

Can you imagine what this is like for Nodar’s friends and family? This is a huge story, and they probably won’t be able to escape the footage. They’ll be confronted with having to see their son/friend/brother die on TV, over and over again. That’s pretty horrific.

Should we be allowed to knowingly watch somebody die? Violence seems generally accepted; that gets shown on TV every day and nobody blinks. It also seems okay to show death, past tense, as mangled car wrecks and body bags on stretchers are also common fare for the news. I guess I just assumed that not showing people die was some sort of conscious choice. Instead, it seems that news organizations just didn’t have good footage of death to show. Now that they have it, they’re more than happy to run with it like it’s no big deal.

I was discussing this with co-workers and one of them pointed out that it isn’t much different than coverage of the Haiti earthquake, where they are showing people on the verge of dying. And they’re right, that isn’t a whole lot different. But I don’t think I’ve actually seen coverage in Haiti of somebody die, just lots of destruction. So it’s at least a little different.

I don’t know. Am I blowing this out of proportion? Is there death on TV all the time already and I just wasn’t paying attention?

There are 5 comments in this article:

  1. 02/13/2010Mike says:

    They proceeded to show the clip (multiple times) in the lead into the Olympics.


  2. 02/14/2010jimmah says:

    i somehow managed to avoid this footage… and i am thankful. we had some friends over this weekend and they were pretty freaked out about it. especially how many times they showed it back to back… super slo-mo and everything.

  3. 02/14/2010brendan says:

    This story came up on the NBC Nightly News last night, and Brian Williams prefaced it with a comment about how NBC would not air the footage again for the duration of the Olympics. It seems that NBC received quite a backlash after the video first ran, so I’m happy to see that we (the public) still maintain some standards.

  4. 02/15/2010Suzi says:

    Yes. It was disruptive and appalling.

    The Footage should not have been shared. Much less repeatedly.

    If I were that Man’s Family and we were suing People, I think NBC might have had some Problems. Just awful.

  5. 02/16/2010Ochophosphate says:

    I’ve managed to avoid seeing the footage thus far. Most of this is probably because I watch little to no TV at all anymore, and I have no desire to seek out the footage on the googlenets.

    I guess it just varies from person to person. I have no desire to witness the footage, so I make it a point not to. Some people probably ran to their computer as soon as they heard the news to try to seek out the footage.

    Instead of the Haiti footage, I’d liken it more to the videos of the hostage executions that were released early on in the war. You could go online and watch the videos released by the terrorists if you wanted… I, for one, did not. It’s just not something I need in my mental roladex. Great, I saw someone die tragically and needlessly, now what? Shall we go eat?

    Most people are curious and some are willing to open themselves to greater extremes to quell that curiosity. I don’t believe this footage should have been shown on evening/prime-time news – it just isn’t necessary. I’ve heard the news, I know it happened, do I need to watch it? If it was shown there should have been a clear disclaimer preceding the footage. If people want to go out on their own and dig up the footage, that’s their prerogative.

    I will most likely never see this footage. It would serve no purpose as I have little/no desire to witness someone’s tragic death… especially when the only benefit (if it could be considered one) would be the ability to tell someone that I had done so.

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