Broadcasting live breaking news is a very sensitive task. On one hand, a news organization is doing its job by showing the public all that there is to see at the site of a story. On the other, you’re always at risk to air something horrendous when you don’t adopt some sort of delay on the news feed.
For the most part, live news is generally accepted as the standard form for broadcast when something breaking happens. Occasionally though, a news organization comes under fire for something that isn’t necessarily its fault.
The most recent case like this came last week when Fox News was following a car chase in which Jodon Romero, the driver of the car, exited the vehicle and began running aimlessly off the road path. Fox News host Shep Smith commentated as Romero made it clear that he was about to harm himself. Smith called to the production team to cut the feed, but Romero’s suicide was shown for all the viewers to see.
It was an obvious misstep by Fox News, but it was a mistake that is going to happen from time to time as long as news is broadcasted live. It is just the price you pay for viewing things in real-time. Every now and then something like this will happen. The only reason that this was such a big issue that has drawn Fox so much scrutiny was because it involved a suicide.
Sometimes disturbing things are part of the news and whether or not everyone agrees that they be shown, under the first amendment, Fox had every right to broadcast it. It is also important to remember that Fox did apologize for the incident afterwards. Instead of standing by what happened it did admit that it was not the network’s intent to show Romero’s suicide. The network labeled what happened as “severe human error.” This is just a fact of life in the news industry. It just so happens that in broadcast you only get a split second sometimes to decide whether or not to cut away.
This is a burden that the print side of Journalism does not have to deal with on the same level that the broadcast side does. Tough decisions need to be made, but are more carefully planned and thought out in print. Multiple people voice their perspectives about difficult issues that a newspaper faces when deciding if it is ethical to run something controversial.
Broadcasts news is not allowed this luxury and the public needs to understand that real news can sometimes carry depressing images. When the Twin Towers in New York City were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, there weren’t masses of people criticizing the networks that aired the burning buildings despite inadvertently showing some victims plunge to their death rather than burning alive at the top of the building.
News happens everywhere at all hours of the day and in the bat of an eyelash it can change from a standard car chase to a suicide that is accidentally broadcasted. There was no gross negligence on the part of Fox. What occurred could have happened to any media organization. Networks should certainly do everything they can to avoid mishaps like one that happened to Fox, but when a media outlet is serving the public by bringing it the news day-in and day-out, it deserves some slack when it commits an error like this.