With backlash growing against media organizations for repeatedly broadcasting video clips ofthe Virginia Tech killer, major U.S. networks on Thursday said they would drastically limit the use of the footage.
NBC News —which received the package of videos and documents — and its cable outlet MSNBC said in a news release that it would limit the use of the images to not more than10 per cent of its airtime.
NBC aired the videos and photos on Wednesday afternoonafter receiving the package from 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people and himself on Monday during a shooting rampage at the Blacksburg, Va., university. Competitors ABC and CBS aired portions of the video minutes later.
Family members of victimsand other planned guests cancelled appearances on NBC's Today show because the video was broadcast, co-host Meredith Vieira said.
Fox, ABC, CBS and CNN issued similar broadcast restrictions on Thursday, with a Fox spokesperson saying: "Sometimes you change your mind."
ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said the tape had breaking news value but the constant repetition made it seem "practically pornographic."
Video clips and photos remained on most of the networks' websites on Thursday afternoon.
(CBC News has not broadcast video or audio from the package.)
Police denounce broadcast
The move comes hours after the superintendent of the Virginia State Police said he is disappointed that NBC News chose to air the "disturbing images."
Col. Steve Flaherty pointed out that police and other security officers are trained to handle such violent imagery.
But hesaid he was disturbedthat the video clipsand photos were being broadcast to the public, potentially includingthe friends and family of the victims.
"We appreciate NBC's co-operation but are rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images. I'm sorry that you were all exposed to those images," Flaherty told a news conference in Blacksburg. "I just hate that a lot of folks that are not used to seeing that type of image had to see it."
Flaherty said authorities didn't learn anything new from the package but it confirmed information they already knew.
NBC defends decision
NBC News president Steve Capus explained the network's decision to air the video during a telephone interview with MSNBC's Hardball on Wednesday afternoon.
"You know, I think this is inside the mind of a murderer. And I don't know, that's the way I would characterize it," said Capus.
"The authorities need to look at this and really dissect it and pick it apart. You look at the some of the writings and these are just long ramblings."
|Why CBC News won't broadcast the material:|
At the CBC, we debated the issue throughout the evening and made the decision that we would not broadcast any video or audio of this bizarre collection.
On CBC Television, Radio and CBC.ca, we would report the essence of what the killer was saying, but not do what he so clearly hoped all media would do. To decide otherwise— in our view — would be to risk copycat killings.
I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts.
Tony Burman, editor-in-chief, CBC News
In introducing the tape on Wednesday night, NBC anchor Brian Williams said the network is "sensitive to how all of this will be seen by those affected."
Within minutes of the video's airing, people started posting messages debatingthe network's decision on the discussion board at MSNBC.com.
"I am appalled though that the news stations/newspapers are allowing the gunman to get his last hoorah by putting his face all over the news," wrote one poster identified as "Leesburg Resident."
'To suggest that we can learn something from this deranged killer's tribute to himself is just pathetic… Now it is out there to influence other disturbed minds.' —Online post from 'mattzuki'
Another accused NBC of granting Cho's last wish.
"To suggest that we can learn something from this deranged killer's tribute to himself is just pathetic… Now it is out there to influence other disturbed minds," wrote another identified as "mattzuki."
Others argued they had a right to know what the killer was thinking.
"I think that by viewing it yourself, you can form your own opinion instead of being fed an expert's opinion that you might not be able to use," said a poster called "Ariadne 11."
Forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told ABC News the airing of the tape was a "social catastrophe."
"This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character," Welner told Good Morning America on Thursday. "There's nothing to learn from this except giving it validation."
Package raised suspicion: NBC
Capus said the package's postmark— Blacksburg, Va.— raised suspicion among security officers, who opened it with gloved hands before calling Virginia State Police and the FBI.
The large envelope included a 23-page document filled with text and photos, along with a DVD filled with 28 Quicktime video clips.
At the request of police, the network kept word of the DVD secret for several hours, said Capus.
The packagewas postmarked 9:01 a.m. ET on Monday, after the first shooting at the Virginia Tech dormitory that killed two people. It was sent by overnight mail, but an incorrect address delayed its delivery to NBC by one day.
Capus said the network aired all but roughly 10 minutes of the video clips and five of the 23 documents. He said he had no idea why the shooter chose NBC.