US networks limit use of gunman video

By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON - US television networks limited broadcasts of a video manifesto by the Virginia Tech killer after heavy coverage drew criticism today from police and victims' families.

NBC News, which received the manifesto in the mail yesterday, said it had acted responsibly in showing the images and rants of gunman Cho Seung-Hui. But NBC and rival networks said they would show restraint in future usage.

The images dominated US news coverage, two days after Cho killed 32 people then himself in the worst shooting rampage in modern US history.

"We had planned to speak to some family members of victims this morning but they cancelled their appearances because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images," said NBC's Today morning programme co-host Meredith Vieira.

Police investigating the shootings in Blacksburg, Virginia, also criticized the airing of the manifesto. "We're rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images," state police chief Col. Steve Flaherty said.

"The world has endured a view of life that few of us would or should ever have to endure," he said.

Cho, a 23-year-old student, mailed photographs of himself posing with his guns and video railing against rich kids and debauchery. The package to NBC News was mailed after he killed his first two victims on Monday morning but before he cut down 30 more in classrooms.

NBC acknowledged that the images were probably devastating to the victims' families. But NBC News President Steve Capus defended the decision to air the material and said other news outlets around the world also broadcast it.

"This is I think as close as we will ever come to being inside of the mind of a killer, and I thought that it needed to be released," Capus said on cable channel MSNBC.

NBC said it contacted authorities as soon as it received the package yesterday and took "careful consideration" in determining how to use the information.

"Our standards and policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams, handled the reporting," NBC said in a statement.

NBC, which let other news outlets use some of the images, said its news division would limit use of the video to "no more than 10 per cent of air time."

ABC News cut back to showing still excerpts from the video or muting the audio, but left video images on its website.

"Once you've seen it, its repetition is little more than pornography once that first news cycle is passed," Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, said.

CBS Corp unit CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said it would use the images "only when necessary to tell the story."

"The bar is set very high. I would be surprised to see much usage of it," Genelius said

Fox News said "we see no reason to continue assaulting the public with these disturbing and demented images," but it would reserve the right to use them as needed in the future. Fox is a News Corp unit.

A CNN representative could not immediately be reached for comment but images from the manifesto were scarce.

Flaherty said the material turned out to be of little value to investigators.

- REUTERS

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