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Networks struggle over use of video

©Associated Press

March 24, 2003

NEW YORK -- U.S. television networks spent hours Sunday weighing whether to air video footage of what appeared to be U.S. prisoners of war.

The images were picked up from Iraqi television by the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the Geneva Conventions make it illegal for prisoners to be pictured, adding that "television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate."

That left network executives with agonizing decisions involving matters of taste and the question of whether they were letting the Pentagon influence their newsgathering decisions.

All of the networks said they would not show video of what was said to be an Iraqi morgue containing American bodies, saying the material was neither newsworthy nor appropriate for airing. However, CNN and NBC have aired a still image of bodies that could not be identified.

A snippet of the POW footage was shown on CBS, shortly after it was received from Al-Jazeera, while Rumsfeld was being interviewed on Face the Nation. The network held off from showing it again after the Pentagon asked for time to contact the families of the soldiers involved.

"I consider that a legitimate request and I don't have any qualms about agreeing to it. The issue of sensitivity to the families is valid," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said.

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