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Graphic images

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 17:55 UK time, Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The use of the YouTube footage of the Finnish gunman 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 Juhnai 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 thereat, but not the firing or the splattered fruit.

A still from a video from YouTube of Matti Juhnai Saari firing a gunIn 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    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?

  • Comment number 2.

    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'

  • Comment number 3.

    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.

  • Comment number 4.

    In response to Tom Williams of course it us up to the "frilly" editors of BBC to decide what they show. Would you have been happy to view the footage of poor Ken Bigley who was killed by his hostages? Of course not and neither would the majority of the viewers and readers of the content BBC has to show. It is then at your discretion whether you wish to investigate further the images and sounds that are available through other channels and sources such as you youtube. What you may perceive to be acceptable viewing may not be to someone elses views. To put this in perspective in regards to the actual shooting in question, the real story is the polices decision to let him go and the subsequent shooting that followed not his video posting.

  • Comment number 5.

    The fact that all these school shootings are done after some form of self-flattery is made public (utube inevitably) would lead me to think the perpetrator is seeking some kind of recognition to bolster their low self-esteem. Responsible media should not play their game by showing video, endlessly looping news reports and screaming the murderer's name. Report the crime, spare us the gore (largely done) but do not pander to them by guaranteeing them huge publicity after their act. If some saddo is sitting in their bedroom right now contemplating copying Finland a huge encouragement to carry out the act would be to know they will be splashed all over the world's media, thus finally getting the recognition they think they deserve. I couldn't care less what their name is, or was.
    I wonder if the frequency of these acts has increased since before we had 24 hour news and the internet? Couldn't be hard for you to find out.

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with "evilhairyhamster" on this one, and applaud the editorial judgement. I would also encourage the BBC to continue its efforts to maintain a dignified tone. In my opinion, not only does it provide a welcome respite from the vulgarity found elsewhere in the media but, by avoiding sensationalism and focusing upon the essential, it makes for better journalism.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with the BBC's decision not to show the whole of the footage; to do so would indeed have been gratuitous violence and cause undue distress to viewers.

    While we cannot wrap people in cotton wool in today's society, we should not allow ourselves to let it become a mundane feature of our everyday lives; that should include its over-inclusion in news footage.

  • Comment number 8.

    In response to Marj_PJ, I think you're confusing me with the person who left the second comment.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good decision; it's about broadcasting standards not an "Aunite Beeb" mentality. If I or anyone else wants to listen to or watch the uncensored versions of any subject of public interest, we'll find it. We live in an age of omnipresent information, so go ahead and choose to find the gory stuff if that suits you - but for me, I don't expect the BBC to shove it in my face.

  • Comment number 10.

    Apologies to tomwilliams as my comment was directed at the second notice posted on this discussion thread.

  • Comment number 11.

    BBC World showed at least three versions of the clip yesterday - the full version, one with the threat included but the shooting towards the camera omitted, and one where the threat was quoted. Not quite sure what this says about the consistency of BBC editorial policy or the BBC World audience, but it is certainly at odds with the blog and did nothing to "reduce their exposure around the world".

  • Comment number 12.

    Go BBC!

    It's not about censorship or squeamishness (though that is a seperate factor).

    It's about not giving violent loonies exactly the publicity they want for free.

    I was in Glasgow at the time of the Glasgow Airport 'bombings'. No-one I knew was scared - maybe shaken and surprised. Most people thought it was hillarious.

    We'd been told that terrorists were terrifyingly efficient and organised. Then two middle-aged guys crash a car into wall, set themselves on fire, and get kicked in the privates like something from 'Chucklevision'. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

    Yet the papers all chose to spin the line that we were terrified (we weren't), that it was nearly a disaster (it wasn't, there was rock solid concrete in the way), that life can't go on as before (it did)...

    International terrorism should have been humiliated, instead, the media gave it exactly what it wanted.

    This guy clearly designed his video to make himself look like a cool, dangerous, fearsome tough guy, when actually he was almost certainly a sad loner. Why should we honour him by playing his video uneditted?

    We shouldn't show him how he wanted to be seen. We should show him how he was - a confused creep threatening a video camera.

  • Comment number 13.

    Availability of something on the Internet is no reason to publish the same on the BBC.

    On television it more "in your face" there is no selection it just comes at you.

    On the Internet one has to go looking for it and, despite what you might think, many many people do not spent hours on the internet hunting for such stuff.

    Violence is a pornography - it tends to corrupt, deprave or desensitise.

    Judgements should be made, standards raised not lowered by the BBC

  • Comment number 14.

    As a student at Virginia Tech, I personally don't want to see this footage or other, similar media. When I saw the pictures and video created by Cho Seung-Hui, it horrified me to see the evil that was the last thing my classmates and professors ever saw. By showing these videos, it only glorifies the violent acts to those depraved minds who would repeat them and opens wider the wound for the friends and loved ones of the victims.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well done, you made the right decision. When I saw the video on ITV I instantly thought it was unnecessarily gratuitous. It added nothing to the story, and detracted from the crime.

  • Comment number 16.

    I fear that we're confusing news with some kind of voyeuristic sensationalism. On this issue, the BBC was right, but constraint on other items (video footage of bomb victims in Ireland Iraq Pakistain or Israel, the televised "surgical strikes" in Iraq), would be good too.

    You guys need to not follow the brylcreem ABC journalist interviewing someone and asking "so now you're legs are history, how do you see your future?"

    These images only serve to polarise even more people (who to say the least) have different viewpoints. Sometimes the BBC, confuses news with the events, and ends up neglecting the undepinning realities.

  • Comment number 17.

    When one considers the GRATUITOUS coverage of Saddam Husseins hanging by the same said BBC - I think the BBC Editors are having a laugh at the publics expense - my daughter was very upset at those images as they were neatly preparing to hang him FOR REAL but SHE easily considered fruit to be just that that - fruit ! - and the ensuing violence he committed to be that of a mentally sick person, and before any quips are made remember our country is supposed to be OPPOSED to the death sentence.

    Fact is BBC doing the governments bidding, again

    "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"

  • Comment number 18.

    Is it acceptable to agree with your sentiments while deploring the priggish expression thereof? Yes, it's perfectly understandable that you may have reached the decision not to publish in full. But the implied criticism of your competitors was, I think, unworthy. I suspect they went through a similar process of debate and discussion before reaching a different conclusion from yourselves. That doesn't make them any more right or wrong than yourselves.

    The line suggesting "Some viewers might feel that by over-using such images broadcasters are contributing to the notoriety that such killers appear to crave" was a ripe old lump of holier-than-thou. Shame on you!

  • Comment number 19.

    If everytime some deranged/deluded/or downright psychotic person makes a sensational video and follows it by an atrocity, that video then gets international media exposure, then it makes a very clear message to such individuals if they want to get their "message" across: make a video and then do a nasty!

    The implication is clear...and personally I don't see this as censorship. Censorship is when those holding power decide to withold significant information from the media: I question how much significant information the "deranged/deluded/or downright psychotic" really have.

  • Comment number 20.

    Oh dear. We had the same anti-gun rhetoric far too often on the BBC yesterday, not forgetting that whilst the story is tragic, the issue of bans of weapons ownership still upsets a number of people after the 1997 ban where people who legally owned weapons for sporting purposes were made to feel like criminals.

    With respect to the footage, I think there's a fine line to be taken - what happened to the different approaches for the Six and the Ten? I'm an adult, and if I'm watching the Ten, then I expect to be told the whole story, with the background, and not have isues glossed over.

    I do wonder if this is the same BBC who are running scared after they showed the incident regarding the bulldozer in Israel earlier this year and then felt the need to apologise? I supported the decision to show that piece then and I feel you should have shown the piece now.

  • Comment number 21.

    No problem with the idea of discretion and judgement. But when we saw the headline to this link my partner and i agreed the 'comment' article would be 'BBC right' 'others wrong'. You are getting predictable.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think the decision to show the news, not the sensational, is very sound. Let the sensation seekers look elsewhere for their cheap dodgy thrills.

    Tangentally, it would be great for the BBC to give us more European news and analysis of current affairs (not the murder stories such as this perhaps).

    I think we'd all learn and benefit from more political and social analysis of our European neighbours than the seeming obsession with the US.

  • Comment number 23.

    Sorry but I think you got it completely wrong on this one.

    The only justifcation for showing this footage was its relevance to the overall story - that the killer had been interviewed by the Finnish police due to its content.

    He certainly wasnt interviewed because he posted footage of shooting a pistol on a firing range, something that the owners of pistols in countries where firearm ownership is legal have a habit of doing, he was interviewed because of his worrying behaviour at the beginning of the clip.

    Cutting the very scene that drew him to their attention lost you the only justification there was for showing the footage at all.

    Instead by ommiting it you simply gave your viewers a 'chance to see the nutter who'd just carried out a mass killing'. Now THATS gratuitous.

    As far as the argument concerning publicity and its effect on this sort of persons behaviour, if there are concerns about it then surely the best way to deal with it would be to never name the person responsible or provide any details of them whatsoever.

    Hard for someone to make a twisted name for themselves if their actions are guaranteed to consign them to the status of an anonymous nothing.

  • Comment number 24.

    The problem with the coverage is not the video footage - it's the uncritical way that you reported suggestions that Finnish laws might be changed to possibly ban handguns. As always, you completely omitted any relevant background information - for example, the fact that the 1997 ban in this country has proven to be completely ineffective.

    You are supposed to be impartial, but BBC reporting on gun crime in general invariably assumes that anti-gun laws are self-evidently worthwhile and effective, and never gives the case against them, even though that case, properly put, is overwhelming. It's not even that you just lie by omission (though you do) - I've caught you on occasion actually peddling genuine untruths, and complaints are simply rejected out of hand.

  • Comment number 25.

    "audiences want us to set limits"... for what is "alarming", "gratuitous"

    Have you tried to comprehensivley define this or will it always be decided on an impromptu basis?

    (please engage with blog posts)

  • Comment number 26.

    Regarding the remark (from Telenosis 10:55pm 24 Sept 2008) that “our country is supposed to be OPPOSED to the death sentence”………………what utter nonsense…………..the vast majority of the population would welcome the reintroduction of the death penalty.
    However, the Government and their BBC mouthpiece that practice ‘selective reporting’, tend to make remarks such as the above by Telenosis appear to be self-evident.
    The days of an impartial BBC news service are long past. The reporting of this event was used by the BBC to peddle its own agenda, in this case, of supporting the Government’s stance on gun law. You state that Finnish law may be changed to ban hand guns in such a way as to make it seem that this is also self-evident. The reality of course has proven to be quite different.

  • Comment number 27.

    Perhaps a return to the 80's were the voices of terrorists were dubbed by actors to reduce the propaganda value of their broadcasts are in order?

    Nutters like this Finnish guy mainly carry out their slaughters to get their 15 minutes of fame. Thats why they record videos before getting the guns out. Stop showing the videos and a lot of the motivation for the attacks are removed.

  • Comment number 28.

    I agree with the BBC's decision here. I just wish they would be more consistent. I for one do not like to see lots of blood shown after terrorist attacks, especially at tea time. Save these more gruesome pictures for 10 o'clock news.

  • Comment number 29.

    #26. Most Brits WOULD happily see the death penalty reintroduced, but these are the same people who are so stupid they petrol bomb paedeatricians homes and would justify it as acceptable collateral damage in their quest for paedophiles. The main reason Britain doesn't have democracy is that democracy would rapidly turn into mob rule. Sadly most politicians are all too happy to make knee jerk reactions in response to the mob. The Finns should look at the non-effect banning legal handguns in the UK has had upon gun crime.

  • Comment number 30.

    I agree with the general thought process that produced your decision.

    What seems to be lacking is any assessment of the relevance of this story to your main audience in the UK.

    Even with 24 hour news there is a limit to the number of stories and amount of detail that can be provided. That is why I get so upset by the celebrity following and survey promotion that pushes out 'real news'.

    A couple of posters seem to feel you must show everything. Oh look, a bird flew past the window, breaking news if I ever saw it. I would prefer that you are more selective with your subjects and feature events that are relevant to most people and have an impact on most people. An obvious example is coverage of the EU, which is almost absent from your bulletins even though it affects all of us.

    Please stay different to the rest. Stick to facts, ignore celebrity self promotion, cover relevant stories to promote understanding and avoid sensational stories just because you have pretty pictures. Quality is the only justification for your existence.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30. I suggest you visit the CNN website or even better watch US TV news. Then ask yourself if you're rather see 'man arrested for dropping litter in minesota' in place of '1000 Africans killed in flood'. Why should the BBC cover the Israeli problems, African famines etc either? In a small world Brits should know as much about foreign affairs as they can.

    Finland is geographically quite close to the UK and this massacre was nasty. It also has similarities to Dunblane and is part of a wider trend for this sort of spree killing that has manifested itself in the UK before now. Any motivation the Finns find for this mans actions are highly relevant to the UK. Whatever he was thinking Thomas Hamilton was also probably thinking.

  • Comment number 32.

    Peter #31, thanks for referring to my post. You might like to read it again as I think you totally misunderstood my point.

    No I don't want trivial local news to push out important international events.

    Yes I do want my fellow Brits to have the opportunity to learn about foreign affairs, which is why I specifically mentioned the EU.

    I agree that a study of the Finnish or Dunblane shootings might help to understand the motivations, but this isn't going to come from news coverage. I'm not sure what I learned from the extensive coverage beyond the fact that a shooting had occurred in Finland which could be conveyed in moments once the event was over and the facts known. Breaking news events are run to try to keep an audience watching as the story unfolds which tends to produce misleading information and speculation rather than useful analysis. Commercial broadcasters feel they have to adopt this approach. I don't see why the BBC do.

  • Comment number 33.

    Ah- understood and agreed with. Yes, I agree totally that the constant reption of stories and speculation is pretty pointless. Its the curse of too many news bulletins and not enough new news to go round.

    I do think that anything odd/noticeable etc about these gunmen and their way of life should be broadcast though, not least as a way of highlighting that type of person and identifying potential killers in advance. In retrospect Thomas Hamilton did several weird things that should have been picked up on earlier. I'd strongly suggest that people posting gun videos on youtube be flagged up as possible loonies and removed from their guns if possible.

  • Comment number 34.

    Speaking of this subject, thank you for stopping the footage of the woman running into a lorry. I'm normally immune to such things, but the events in that video did disturb me and move me to tears.

  • Comment number 35.

    Whether you show these videos or not is irrelevant to the matter of reducing the number of incidents where someone with weapons can wreak havoc on anyone else.

    The subject of "copycats" has become a ridiculous aside in attempting "to understand" the people involved. You do not "understand" people whose behaviour is, by definition, irrational. And, in any event, looking back on an incident is far too late, unless you go back months and even years. By the time a video is released it is already too late.

    In the Virginia Tech killings the BBC tried to justify its release of the video by, in Peter Allen's words on BBC Five Live, because "it is news". I complained to the BBC at the time and didn't even receive the courtesy of a reply.

    If we are really going to improve conditions in our society to the extent required to reduce mass gun killings then we have to get to the bottom of what goes wrong with the people involved. What is missing? Why do these people develop such poor self esteem that they feel the need to go on such appalling power trips before ending their lives?

  • Comment number 36.

    Fair enough.


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