LOS ANGELES — The president of ABC News has ordered the network to stop showing footage of hijacked jetliners slamming into the World Trade Center, saying repeated broadcasts of the images had become gratuitous, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
“It’s sort of an umbrella directive from President David Westin that unless use of the video is viewed as critical to the integrity of the piece, it won’t be aired,” ABC News spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols said. “It won’t air without a fairly high-level conversation.”
Nichols said the “management decision” was made Monday and was announced on the air by anchor Peter Jennings.
Footage of airliners crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center last Tuesday was captured on videotape by both news crews and amateurs and since has been shown repeatedly on the major networks.
On the first day of the tragedy, the four major broadcast networks and CNN set aside their rivalry and agreed to share footage. Hundreds died in the worst assault ever on American soil.
Dr. Robert Pynoos, director of UCLA’s Trauma Psychiatry Program, said it was a “well reasoned public-health measure” for ABC to stop showing the disturbing footage and called on other news organizations to follow suit.
“There are thousands of families who have endured a traumatic loss and who look to the airwaves for essential, unfolding information,” Pynoos said. “It’s unfair that these families have to experience renewed distress during their traumatic bereavement by facing how their family members may have died.”
Pynoos added, “It’s really time for the other stations to follow this very good public-health measure so that the population can follow new developments without having to get upset by these being images presented unexpectedly.”
Westin’s order makes ABC the first network to call a halt to replays of the chilling footage, and Nichols said the move was well received throughout the news division and by the network’s affiliates.
Nichols said Westin’s order, which also applies to footage of the two towers exploding and collapsing, was not prompted by viewer calls.
“Clearly ABC views gratuitous use of the footage as not appropriate,” Nichols said. “We have communicated to our affiliates what our policy is.”
Nichols said Westin’s directive did not apply to affiliates or to ABC’s entertainment division and should not be considered an ironclad ban on the images.
“There are clearly going to be some circumstances when you can use still photos if they are relevant,” she said.
The news divisions of all the Big Four broadcasters — ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox — stayed on the air last week with an unprecedented four straight days of round-the-clock, commercial-free coverage of the assaults and their aftermath.