CBC withholds killer’s multimedia manifesto, NBC seizes branding opportunity

The CBC is the only major Canadian news website choosing not to run pictures and video that Virigina Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui mailed to US network NBC.

CBC editor-in-chief Tony Burman said on his blog that the material would not be broadcast on CBC’s radio or television programs either:

…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.

Speaking personally, I have long admired NBC News and I am sure my admiration of their journalists will endure. But I think their handling of these tapes was a mistake. As I watched them last night, sickened as I’m sure most viewers were, I imagined what kind of impact this broadcast would have on similarly deranged people. In horrific but real ways, this is their 15 seconds of fame.

I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts.

Commenters on Burman’s blog are divided about whether CBC made the right call.

Canada.com, canoe.ca, thestar.com and globeandmail.com all used the photographs and images supplied by Cho, as did major news sites around the world. No doubt they are by now also available on photo and video sharing sites and blogs.

Most major Canadian newspapers also had at least one of Cho’s gun-toting pictures on the front page of their print editions today — notable exceptions being the Winnipeg Free Press [which pointed from a small picture of grieving students on page 1 to a story about Cho’s manifesto on page 6] and Toronto commuter freebie 24 Hours [which led with a move to ban incandescent lightbulbs and the stranding of 100 sealing ships in ice off Newfoundland].

As for NBC’s handling of the situation. I don’t think many people would be surprised by their decision to broadcast.

But did anyone else feel as uneasy as I did that NBC had placed its logo onĀ all the images before releasing them to other media? I can understand the network’s marketers probably saw this as a great branding opportunity, but I think it may actually have the opposite effect. Do you really gain when you associate your brand with a mass murderer seeking fame?

It was clearly Cho’s intention to use NBC for his own notoriety. With the logo, it almost looks in some photographs as if he was right there on NBC property.

>> More about the debate over publication at Huffington Post’s Eat the Press

>> Apr 22, 2007: The CBC’s Tony Burman in an audio interview with On the Media