Shoot to Print? Editorial

The recent death of an Olympian luger in Vancouver was immediately broadcast on an international level.

Within hours, the video of the 21–year–old athlete from the Republic of Georgia flying down the official ice luge track at 90 miles per hour was being broadcast on news stations around the world, complete with the shot of his body hitting a metal pole, going stiff, and falling to the ground. There was no visible blood, but it was still a disturbing image.

Over the past century, as cameras became increasingly available to the general public, the issue of violent images in the media has become a topic of ethical debate. Especially within the past ten years, the ability of anyone to record history has grown exponentially, changing the way the public perceives and gathers their news.

Images of death in the media can have a significant impact on community members and their views on a certain issue. For example, photographs of acts of violence against Blacks during the Civil Rights movement –– such as the photograph of Emmett Till, a 14–year–old boy who was lynched in Tennessee in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman –– often resulted in a public outcry and increased awareness about rampant racism in the United States.

During the Vietnam War, graphically violent photographs exposed for Americans the realities of a far–off battleground. Huyng Cong Ut’s recognizable photograph, taken in 1972, portrays a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack. These types of images contributed to the undermining of popular American support for the Vietnam War.

However, images –– or videos – that do not seem to serve a purpose apart from shock value, or perhaps a high viewer count on a news website, raise questions about their necessity.

Questions worth considering when assessing the placement of an image or video in the media are: Is there a point? What is the point? More importantly, does it matter if there is a point? Should freedom of the press include repeatedly broadcasting an individual’s death without the consent of his family?

While it was important for the death of Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili to be reported not only so that the athlete could be honored but so that the luge track could be made safer, the sensationalized nature of the incident was unnecessary. The video of the unexpected death of Kumaritashvili was incessantly broadcast on national daytime television in poor taste.