Censors Clear Canadian Broadcaster for Repeatedly Airing Video of Olympian's Death

Standards council, responding to 145 viewer complaints, said CTV was within its rights to air Georgian luger flying into a support post during a practice run.

TORONTO -- Canada's TV censors have cleared domestic broadcaster CTV for repeatedly airing graphic video footage of a luger's death at the recent 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, responding to 145 viewer complaints, said the CTV was within its rights to air 21-year-old Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili flying off his luge during a practice run and into a support post -- even if YouTube and other online websites scrambled to take the death video down.

"The complainants were concerned that showing the footage of the accident, including the moment of the luger's impact with the post, was extremely disturbing for viewers and was also disrespectful to the deceased luger and his grieving family, friends and fellow athletes," the CBSC panel wrote.

But, despite some TV viewers taking offense, the industry-based TV tastemaker concluded that CTV did not breach industry rules with its news reporting and was fair and responsible with its coverage.

"There were no tight shots reflecting the Georgian athlete's condition after impact," the CBSC panel wrote in its decision. "There was, in other words, no effort to sensationalize or exaggerate the terrible event. 

"The panel considers that the shots were fair, sufficiently distant and not in any way an attempt to exaggerate the awful circumstances of the collision with the post."

The luge accident at the Whistler sliding center, falling Feb. 12, just as the Games were starting, caught the CTV broadcast team, part of the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, by surprise.

CTV Whistler bureau chief Sarah Galashan was first on the scene to report the accident to Canadians and introduce the accident video.

"And up at the sliding center, we've just heard of, uh, a very sad and disturbing, uh, incident. Um, during the training, uh, a Georgian athlete has, uh, experienced a crash in the sport of luge. We are going to show you some video here, but first, uh, uh, we have to warn our viewers, we do not know the condition of this athlete, and this video is very tough to watch," Galashan, as shocked as her nationwide audience was about to become, said, according to a CBSC transcript of the broadcast.

CTV repeatedly aired the video throughout Feb. 12 and before news filtered out from the hospital that the Georgian athlete had died from his injuries.

CTV officials confided at the time that there was debate in the newsroom about whether the repeated airing of the video, both on conventional TV and on the CTV's websites, was newsworthy.

The CBSC backed the broadcaster in its ultimate decision that it was.

"The panel does recognize that there was a difference in the decision to broadcast the video of the accident prior to the news that Nodar Kumaritashvili had died, as opposed to after that awareness, but that decision was the broadcasterts to take," the Canadian TV censors wrote.