This post has been updated.
Video of the Toulouse shootings was sent to al-Jazeera, but the Qatar-based broadcaster decided not to air it.
Al-Jazeera says it received a USB memory stick that contained 25 minutes of video, as well as a letter claiming responsibility for the killings. The postal stamp was dated last Wednesday, the day police cornered shooter Mohammed Merah in his Toulouse apartment. Police have confirmed the authenticity of the video, according to the network.
In a statement on its English-language site, al-Jazeera explained its decision not to air the footage, saying the video “did not add any information that was not already in public domain. It also did not meet the television station’s code of ethics for broadcast.” The network also said it would decline all requests for copies of the video.
Al-Jazeera has come under fire for videos it has aired in the past. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the network was criticized for broadcasting videos it received from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Critics said the network was giving “voice” to terrorists; the station said the footage was deemed newsworthy. The U.S. government also chastised the network for airing footage of American POWs and battle casualties.
In response to al-Jazeera’s statement on the Toulouse video, Tunisian consultant Mohamed Ali Chebâane tweeted: “Ethics. Ethics NOW?”
Al-Jazeera would not say whether their code of ethics changed since they broadcast the controversial videos almost a decade ago.
But network spokesman Osama Saeed told BlogPost in an e-mail:
“Any footage we air must have news value. It also should not breach guidelines regarding unnecessarily graphic images. Anything we air must pass these tests, and indeed the previous videos you mention have been subsequently rebroadcast by U.S. networks too.”
Al-Jazeera told the New York Times Tuesday that the footage from Toulouse showed graphic images of the murders accompanied by music, religious chants and the reading of Koranic verses. “You hear the gunshots and the cries of the victims,” Tarrouche Zied, the network’s Paris bureau chief, told the Times.
Police had earlier said that Merah wore a camera around his neck as he carried out the shooting on a Jewish school in France that killed a rabbi and three children. Merah himself was later killed in a shootout with police.
Although French prosecutors did not bar al-Jazeera from broadcasting the video, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the network not to. In a speech to police officers and judges, the president said: “I call on the heads of the networks not to show the video under any circumstances, out of respect for the victims and respect for the Republic,” according to the Times.
Zied also told the Times that al-Jazeera made the decision out of respect to the pain it could cause the victims’ families.
In 2003, al-Jazeera’s D.C. bureau chief Hafez al-Mirazi made a speech in San Francisco to defend the network’s decision to broadcast several videos made by terrorists. Mirazi compared it to the New York Times’ decision to publish messages from the Unabomber. The bureau chief also responded to criticism over the network’s footage of American POWs and battle casualties.
“If you are frustrated by images of people killed and are complaining of al-Jazeera putting footage of casualties in war, there is a simple way to do it,” Mirazi said at a speech San Francisco. “Instead of not allowing images of people who are killed, stop killing those people.”