More States consider ban on public release of 911 tapes on privacy concerns
“ We strongly believe that 911 recordings should be public record because they can reflect on the performance of public agencies,” said Thomas Kent, standards editor of The Associated Press. “It certainly can be hard to listen to 911 recordings, and we use them very sparingly on the air and online. Our decision to use such recordings depends primarily on their relevance to important news, not the atmospherics.”
Cuillier, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Journalism, said the answer is better self-regulation by the media.
“I see this all around the country. There’ll be a media outlet that maybe goes a little too far — pushes the boundaries on something — and people do not like that,” he said. “And then you’ll have demands that it be taken down, you’ll have a backlash, you’ll have legislation that makes it all secret.”
WSPA, the Spartanburg, S.C., TV station that aired Casey’s 911 call in 2008, apologized a day later and removed the recording from its Web site.
“That 911 call was me realizing my daughter was dead,” Casey said. “I did not care to share that with the world and that private moment of grief should never have been used to sell papers, or up ratings.”
Brasfield cited one particularly upsetting example from Alabama involving a call made by a boy whose grandmother was being mauled by a dog.
Gary Allen, editor of an online magazine for dispatchers, said new technology makes it easier than ever to splice and copy 911 calls. And cellphone calls are more dramatic and on-the-spot, making the audio irresistible.
Celebrity 911 calls have proved to be enormously popular, as illustrated recently by cases involving Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen.
“In general, the issue has boiled down to the need for people to feel that they can call 911 at any time and their situation won’t be splashed across the media, either creating embarrassment or emotional harm,” said Allen, a former dispatcher for 20 years who now works with www.911dispatch.com. “On the other side of that is the very legitimate and obvious public concern that everyone involved in 911 is doing their job correctly. I think it’s pretty clear that the public has a right to know what is happening in a communication centre.”