The violent images of 9-11 will return to television screens, but to what extent?

Thursday, August 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ABC News imposed a flat prohibition on video replays of the planes striking the World Trade Center and the towers collapsing. Only still photos could be used.

Now, for one day _ the first anniversary of the attacks _ the network has told its producers that the ban is lifted.

``We've at least told people that you can come back and ask for it,'' ABC News President David Westin said. ``Before, we said, `don't ask.'''

TV network executives promise to be judicious in how much they use video images that are already burned into the collective memory. But it's clear those images will return.

Nearly a month ahead of the anniversary, CNN began airing an advertisement that shows one of the planes heading directly toward the tower. The scene cuts away before impact, however.

``I don't think we can walk away from these images entirely,'' said Teya Ryan, general manager of CNN's U.S. network. They're less shocking but no less disturbing after a year's time, she said.

While ABC was the only network to issue a blanket ban, others strictly limited use of the video soon after the attacks. It was partly because time made the images less newsworthy, but there also were complaints that they were disturbing, particularly to young children who couldn't distinguish between live pictures and replays.

Some viewers complained that the pictures were being used as video ``wallpaper,'' repeated over and over again to promote programming.

``Nobody wants hours of replays of the planes going into the building,'' said Marcy McGinnis, CBS senior vice president of news coverage. ``By the same token, it's the year anniversary. You're going to see what happened to spark this chain of events.''

CBS doesn't believe in limiting use of the video to a certain number of times each day, she said.

``We very much leave it up to the discretion of executive producers,'' McGinnis said, ``but impress upon them our values, which are, be tasteful and don't be gratuitous.''

A similar policy is in place on NBC, where the images will be used ``exceedingly sparingly,'' said Mark Lukasiewicz, executive producer for special projects.

For example, the pictures will appear on a ``Dateline NBC'' special Sept. 10 which tells the story of four people in the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks. Lukasiewicz said the images will be in context, and viewers who want to avoid seeing them will be able to turn away.

ABC is considering use of violent video images on a case-by-case basis. ``We will be very careful about it,'' Westin said.

Fox News Channel has prepared material for the morning of Sept. 11 that gives a minute-by-minute account of what happened a year earlier and includes use of the video. It still hasn't been decided whether that will be used; the network may instead show the reading of victims' names during the memorial service, said Tom Bird, a senior producer.

``Every time I see this stuff it disturbs me,'' Bird said. ``Knowing how I'm affected, I'm certain there are viewers that feel the same way. At the same time, we can't forget this, and I think those images are very important in that goal.''

One thing network executives are unanimous about: Video showing people jumping from the World Trade Center will not be shown.

A glimpse of a jumper was briefly shown on CBS last Sept. 11, and the network quickly admitted it was a mistake. CBS' ''9-11'' documentary, which will be repeated Sept. 8, contained the disturbing sounds of bodies upon impact but no accompanying video. More graphic footage was apparently seen overseas.

``Given the proliferation of media and the fragmentation, it will be foolish of anyone to predict that it will never be shown,'' Westin said.

But at ABC, he said, ``it's not a close call.''

``I think you can tell the story without showing that,'' said CBS' McGinnis. ``We haven't shown that since and I don't believe we ever will.''