Dying on TV: Should we be watching?

Videos of the death of a woman in Iran now known as Neda Agha-Soltan, hit You Tube on the weekend, and soon spread to news websites and television newscasts. The video is graphic. It shows the end of a young woman’s life.

Editors and producers chose to handle the video, shot by a bystander, in different ways — with sound, without sound, in whole or in part, with the dying woman’s face blurred. Many used a screen shot taken from the video. Some only linked to the video on You Tube. Most warned viewers.

Information about the situation in Iran is sketchy and the Associated Press could not initially verify the woman’s identity or the circumstances around her death because foreign news organizations have been barred from reporting on the streets of Tehran and the Iranian government didn’t release any information. But AP noted that the people posting the video say the woman was shot by a member of the pro-government Basij militia.

The Huffington Post reported  that “at least two recordings of Soltan’s death, shot from different angles by what appear to camera phones, began appearing widely online Saturday, the day thousands of protesters defied an order from Iran’s supreme leader and marched to demand a new election. Waiting police and pro-government militia launched baton charges, tear gas and water cannons.One of the amateur videos of Soltan is 40 seconds long, the other only 14.”

CBC aired the video on television without sound and Agha-Soltan’s bloody face blurred out. Reporter Nahlah Ayed spoke over the video.

In another television segment, CBC host Heather Hiscox speaks over the video, and again the dying woman’s face is blurred. Hiscox asks Agha-Soltan’s friend, Armin Abedi, what it was like for him to watch the video. A link to the video on You Tube is available on cbc.ca’s story, under a screen shot image from the video and the statement: “Warning: it contains graphic content.”

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A search of the CTV website shows an AP story, with a still image from the video.

CTV National News interviewed Iranian-Canada journalist CTV Ramin Mahjouri on Sunday evening and filmed Mahjouri watching the video of Agha-Soltan’s death on his computer. The camera zoomed closely into the video over Mahjouri’s shoulder. The sound could be heard, but only a short clip of the video is shown, avoiding the graphic close-up at the end.

Global National aired a portion of the video on Sunday, with sound but also avoiding the close-up, and prefaced it with a warning to viewers.

On the newspaper front, The Globe and Mail ran a screen shot from the video and linked to the video on You Tube, with the word warning in bold and the explanation: “This video shows graphic, highly disturbing content.”

The National Post also ran a screen shot on its story , but provided a link to the video on a post to the NP Posted blog.

In a couple of U.S. examples, CNN ran the video in full, with sound, many times, during various segments. CBS News aired the video, showing the woman’s face at first, but then blurring out the woman’s face a few seconds in when blood appears.

What do you think about the way the editors and producers at various organizations handled the footage?

What would you have done?