Rules about showing real corpses on TV?
June 11, 2015 10:02 AM   Subscribe

What are the regulations, laws, or norms regarding showing images of actual (non-fictional) corpses on TV in the United States (or more specifically California)?

Google is failing me - I'd like to know what the rules are regarding showing photos of real dead people on TV in California. What changes depending on type of show (e.g. news vs. talk show), type of channel, time of day it is aired, degree of decomposition (e.g. if it is someone newly killed vs. skeletal remains), circumstances of death (e.g. murder victim vs. natural disaster victim), whether the corpse in question has been identified and its next of kin notified, etc.? Are warnings about graphic content or the blurring of wounds or faces mandatory or voluntary (and in what circumstances)? How large a fine would would be imposed for violation of these regulations, and who would have to pay it (TV network, cable company, etc.)?
posted by unsub to Law & Government (2 answers total)
I don't believe that any states have broadcast rules (among other reasons, you can't stop a broadcast at state lines), and all states adhere to FCC regulations for broadcast television (cable can do whatever they want as far as content is concerned). Local stations have their own internal standards about what they do and don't show when, and the networks also have Standards & Practices departments. But those standards and practices are largely in service of what the advertisers will stand for and preventing private lawsuits, and then beyond that adhering to the weird and complicated world of what the FCC deems obscene or indecent, which is largely concerned with sexual or excretory behavior. Those fines are issued against the broadcaster, which depending on circumstance would be the network parent company or the regional division responsible for sending out the broadcast in question.

There are not, as far as I can tell, FCC regulations about showing corpses on TV. It's just that the local news knows there's only so much its typical viewer/advertiser will put up with, and theoretically there are journalism ethics to take into consideration.

In short, all these actions are voluntary in the sense that they are making the decision about how they handle that content. There are some common practices driven by ethics or lawsuits - blurring of faces, for example, relates to victim privacy issues both legal and ethical. It is largely a free-market-correction kind of place, though, unless it involves boobs, poop, or sexytimes.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:01 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

In news programs it would be up to the news director to decide and those would be done by journalistic standards. Almost any rule you can think of has been violated or is purposely violated because there's a larger issue at play.

I've been involved in some of these debates. After 9/11 AP photographers uploaded pictures of people jumping from the towers rather than burn to death. Do you show that? Some did, some didn't. When it comes to something like a beheading video do you show it or not? (Most don't.)

I watched the videos of the Boston bombings over and over again, and that would probably violate every rule you set out (families not yet notified, no one blurred, etc.). It was decided that the story was too big and it was too important to not show.

Heck, I've seen at least one live suicide on TV and a few high speed chase live feeds that didn't end well.

So if you saw something you think is inappropriate it's probably not something the TV station can get in trouble for. First Amendment protections would probably keep the company safe.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:22 PM on June 11, 2015

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