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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 09:15 GMT
Should hostage videos be shown?
By Roger Mosey
Head of TV News

The BBC's decision to show stills of hostage Margaret Hassan rather than videos before her apparent murder angered some viewers. They complained of censorship - but Roger Mosey argues it is not appropriate to show caged hostages breaking down in tears.

Margaret Hassan
A video of Mrs Hassan's apparent murder was released in November

We believe that the use of disturbing pictures of television news must be based on a case-by-case basis.

You could have a black-and-white policy to decide to show all terrorist-made videos or you could ban all terrorist-made videos.

But we believe that's wrong. We make a new decision on each new piece of footage and one of the key factors in that decision is the level of distress that the hostage is in.

In the case of the videos that Mrs Hassan is in, she seemed to be extremely distressed and we saw no benefit in showing that.

Showing people in tears, breaking down in cages on national TV is not in anyone's interests.

The dilemma for the BBC is striking the right balance between the demands of truth and the danger of desensitising the audience.

Dublin-born Mrs Hassan, who has Irish, British and Iraqi nationality, was seized by an unknown group in Baghdad on 19 October
The 59-year-old, who lived in Iraq for 30 years, appeared in several videos after she was kidnapped
She was driving to work as director of Care's Iraq operations when she was abducted on October 19
A video of her apparent murder was released a month later, but her body has never been recovered

We feel viewers and listeners want to see and hear for themselves what is happening in the world but in a way that seeks to inform rather than offend.

Other broadcasters have agreed with our stance. ITN chose only to use stills and the trend in the industry has been to take a more conservative stance.

But it's an ethical debate that all journalists - and audiences - need to have.

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