Networks face quandary over Saddam execution

By Steve Gorman
Friday, December 29, 2006; 8:19 PM

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the world awaited word of Saddam Hussein's fate, U.S. television news executives faced a quandary over whether to break a taboo against airing footage of executions should video of his hanging become available.

As of Friday evening, two major broadcast networks -- ABC and NBC -- as well as cable news outlets CNN and Fox News Channel -- said they would wait to see what images of Saddam's execution, if any, surface before deciding whether and how to use them.

All said they would break into regular programming with special coverage when they confirmed the former Iraqi leader was dead, although none contemplated any live pictures from the hanging.

CBS appeared to be the most reluctant of the networks to take the unprecedented step of broadcasting video footage of an execution on television in the United States, a country where 53 people were put to death in 2006 alone.

CBS News Vice President Paul Friedman all but ruled out showing footage of Saddam's hanging, saying, "I personally believe it is beyond the pale to show executions."

"I would not want to see moving pictures of the actual moment of Saddam Hussein's death, or anyone else's," Friedman told Reuters, adding, "It's likely we'll use some combination of moving pictures to a certain point, and then stills."

He said one possible scenario would be to show Saddam arriving at the gallows or being prepared for execution, followed by still photographs taken of the body after the hanging.

Phil Alongi, executive producer of special events for NBC News, said the broadcast of execution footage would depend on "what this video looks like" and whether "there is any editorial value to it."

Iraqi officials told Reuters that Saddam Hussein would hang at dawn local time on Saturday. Saddam ruled Iraq by fear for three decades before a U.S. invasion and his conviction for crimes against humanity.

A number of media outlets have reported the Iraqi government planned to videotape the hanging but it was not clear whether those pictures would be broadcast or otherwise made public.

If footage is taken of the hanging, "there's no question in my mind that the entire video will get out at some point" and end up on the Internet, Friedman said.

According to entertainment and media trade publication The Hollywood Reporter, the Iraqi government on Tuesday released video of the hanging of 13 convicts.

The U.S. military released graphic still photos of the bodies of Saddam's two sons in July 2003, and some of those images appeared on U.S. television.

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