Upset over the broadcast of a surveillance tape showing the slaying of a convenience store clerk, the new news director of KNBC-TV Channel 4 has ordered staffers not to show violent acts that have been caught on film.
In a memo to the news staff, Bill Lord said the broadcast Tuesday morning of the tape, which showed a clerk in Paramount being gunned down during a robbery, "violated any imaginable standard of good taste or good journalism."
Lord, who joined KNBC on April 17 after working as a TV news director in Seattle, said in an interview Thursday that he was at home Tuesday when he saw the tape on the 6:30 a.m. newscast. He said he immediately called the newsroom and ordered the story pulled from other morning updates. In newscasts later that day, the tape was shown, but was frozen just before the shot was fired.
Lord said he wasn't aware that any viewers had called KNBC to complain about the morning airing, and some other stations continued to show the shooting in their broadcasts that day.
"Things get on television because we go through this mechanical process in a rush to get it on," Lord said. "We don't think about what we're doing. This memo was an opportunity to articulate a standard I think we could live by."
Under his new policy, Lord said that if a violent act is caught on tape, the tape will be stopped just before the violence occurs.
"We use the tape to identify suspects," he wrote in the memo. "We do not use the tape as the news equivalent of a snuff film."
The policy marks a drastic departure from strategies at many local stations, where shootings or other violent acts are often shown, sometimes with no warning to viewers of the content.
Lord said, "There are certain things that viewers do not want displayed in their living rooms. An actual murder is one of those things. We need to be sensitive."
He acknowledged that there may be exceptions to his rule, and he will have to judge those on a case-by-case basis.
"With the Rodney King tape, it was terrifying to watch, but it was important to see the actual event of what took place," Lord said. "The case of a convenience store murder does not fit into that category."
The policy has been overwhelmingly embraced by the staff, Lord said: "They've been coming out of the woodwork to thank me."