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Tips for TV viewers

by Bonnie Bucqueroux

The Victims and the Media Program at Michigan State University educates journalists of today and tomorrow on how they can do a better job of reporting on victims of violence and catastrophe. The following is a checklist of do's and don't's that the consumers of news can use to assess whether the broadcast or newspaper account that they are seeing treats victims fairly:

· The Ambush Interview - The surprise or ambush interview may make sense for investigative reporting or when challenging con artists, but it has no place in victim coverage. If your local TV station shows victims slamming the door in the reporter's face too often, something is wrong.

· Too Close for Comfort - Telephoto lenses for video and still cameras can be used to violate a victim's expected zone of privacy without them knowing how intrusive the shot will be. Let your local broadcasters know if they go too far.

· If It Were Your Child - Children who are victimized deserve to be heard, without being patronized or exploited. The best filter to assess coverage is to judge the story as if it were your child being interviewed.

· The Blur of Shock and Trauma - We should wince - and protest - when it is clear that the victim being interviewed is too stunned to be an accurate reporter of events. Many victims in that condition do not even remember being interviewed.

· The Hurtful Cliché - The gurney being lifted into the back of the ambulance. The casket being lowered into the ground. Journalists must be challenged to create fresh images to tell the story.

· Victims as Teasers - Many victims report feeling blindsided when TV stations use lurid footage as promos for hours prior to the newscast.

· The 5-Second Soundbite - Victims feel that they are the best experts on their own victimization. Many resent being reduced to a five-second sound bite, then the story moves to a focus on the perpetrator or interviews with experts.

· Notifying Victims - It can be difficult to tell from the resulting article or broadcast, but news organizations should notify victims when follow-up or anniversary stories are done. Many victims report feeling violated and traumatized when a newspaper article or broadcast that they had not expected brings back painful memories.