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Video blackout: How the media should have handled the ISIS beheadings


In the past few weeks, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has released videos that claim to show the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and most recently, British aid worker, David Haines. The media has posted, screen-capped and printed those videos, which is exactly what ISIS wanted.

Posting videos and pictures of the beheadings is unethical. These images, first distributed by ISIS, are meant to generate fear among a sensitive public. When the media redistributes them for the sake of the news, the terror of the video and the beheadings is spread further. Journalists have the responsibility of raising awareness of the ongoing and extremely violent events in the Middle East, but it is not necessary to use videos and pictures.

While the world is watching these videos, the families of the victims suffer. Every time they turn on the TV, read the newspapers or surf the Internet, they must relive these shocking scenes. Members of these families have lost of their privacy to discretely mourn their loss. Kelly Foley, James Foley’s cousin, asked people to steer clear of the video.

“Please honor James Foley and respect my family’s privacy. Don’t watch the video. Don’t share it. That’s not how life should be,” she posted to Twitter.

Even though print publications do not show the whole video, the screen shots still capture the terror of the killings. Even posting from the videos should not be allowed; the three captured victims and their families must be treated with dignity – Kelly Foley’s statement could not be clearer about that.

News outlets do not release images or the identities of victims of sexual assault to protect the privacy of the victims, yet they run pictures of these men kneeling at the feet of an ISIS militant. They should show the same respect to the families of Foley, Sotloff and Haines and keep the images out of the press. The public needs accurate information, but it does not need the terror that comes from those videos.

Some media organizations have made efforts to ban the videos. Vimeo and Liveleak, video sharing websites, include warnings on the videos, including “for people looking for the original video released by IS click here at your own risk,” and a pop-up requiring viewers to select that they are 18 years or older.

Twitter has been suspending accounts that post the images. A campaign on the social media site, which uses the hashtag #ISISmediaBlackout, is calling for a boycott of the images.

The media should inform the public, but they should not post, print or broadcast these gruesome videos. All news sources and outlets should participate in the media blackout.

The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

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