BBC defends its censorship of gunman images

Peter Horrocks - head of BBC Newsroom

The use of the YouTube footage of the Finnish gunman (watch here) caused much debate at BBC News and was handled differently by us and other UK broadcasters. Our competitors chose to run the full footage of Matti Juhani Saari issuing his threat "You will die next", followed by him firing towards the camera and the explosion of pieces of fruit across the lens as his bullets found their target.

The BBC chose only to run the verbal threat, but not the firing or the splattered fruit.

In an age of widespread availability of such footage on the internet, why did the BBC hold back some of this footage and were we right to do so?

Our thinking was that the editorially relevant part of the footage was the threat, which had apparently been seen by the Finnish police prior to the killings. However we decided the firing to camera and the explosion of fruit would be alarming to some audiences and might be considered gratuitous in the circumstances of the mass murder he had carried out.

ITV News in the UK also used a montage of footage of the threats made prior to mass murder by the killers at Columbine High and Virginia Tech. These pictures made the point that there appears to be a copycat pattern of video postings followed by killings. BBC News took the view that it was unnecessary to make that point by repeating those shocking images. Some viewers might feel that by over-using such images broadcasters are contributing to the notoriety that such killers appear to crave.

Of course many online video distributors and international broadcasters have decided to publish those videos and the BBC's decision not to use all of the pictures does not significantly reduce their exposure around the world. Nevertheless we believe our audiences want us to set limits and only to use material where it is editorially relevant.

Some bloggers rounded on the Beeb's censorship.

tomwilliams83 wrote:

I admire the principle here, but what happens when it's applied to footage of other notoriety-seekers such as terrorists? The terrorist by definition is a person who seeks to spread terror in the name of a particular cause, and they do this by carrying out barbaric attacks which are relayed around the world by the international media. Remove the reporting on the attacks and you probably succeed in removing a significant amount of the terror. Should the BBC therefore be considering media blackouts on major terrorist atrocities?

brianab wrote:

BBC still has an Auntie mentality.
News is news. It is not for some 'frilly' BBC editor to decide whether language or images are 'bad'. It is up to the newscaster to state that some images may be distressing, but it is up to the viewer to decide. Times have changed, even for the Beeb, so grow up and trust the licence payer. While I'm here, who is it that decides the running order of the news. Gordon Brown's speech in Manchester came before the shooting in Finland. Do the Beeb still have the English public school mentality
' What the hell, it's only a load of foreigners after all'

evilhairyhamster wrote:

I have no problem whatsoever with the Beeb's editorial decisions on this one. There's no need to grow up', the job's being done well as it is.

* See Finnish press coverage of the tragedy: