A report comes out which disputes the wisdom of this obnoxious practice:
Should 9-1-1 Calls be Broadcast on TV?
Sometimes when the TV is left on after the news goes off, you pick up a piece of information that can become a story. That’s what happened this morning when the doctors from “The Doctors,” a syndicated show seen in New York on WCBS at 9am, made a bold declaration that the broadcasting of 9-1-1 calls should not be allowed.
“We’re gonna take a stand here on our show and say that, unequivocally, we do not feel as physicians that 9-1-1 calls should be sent out to be broadcast,” said lead “Doctors” Dr. Travis Stork.
That is heresy to TV news producers and reporters who will tell you their stories are made much better and more whole, not to mention more dramatic, with the urgency a 9-1-1 call provides.
“The Doctors” were discussing the case of Demi Moore and the 9-1-1 call that resulted in her being rushed to the hospital last month. Dr. Stork argues that as soon as someone calls 9-1-1, they are a patient and that doctor-patient confidentiality should kick in. “We are going to urge that congress takes this up,” said Stork.
What was not discussed was how the broadcasting of 9-1-1 calls can be a wake-up call for operators who don’t heed a caller’s warning soon enough. The most recent example of that made national headlines last week.
On Sunday Feb. 5, David Lovrak had taken an urgent call from Elizabeth Griffin-Hall the caseworker assigned to the case of Josh Powell and his two sons.
Griffin-Harris called Pierce County, WA 9-1-1 at 12:08 p.m. Five minutes later, information from that call was transferred to the radio dispatcher. At 12:16, two deputies were sent to the scene. The first unit arrived at 12:30 but by then Josh Powell had set his home on fire and killed his two young sons and himself.
Lovrak, a veteran 9-1-1 operator later told “Dateline NBC” he was “clumsy and faltering” on the call. “Realizing what we all know now, I wish I had recognized the urgency of the situation.”
This was followed by an online poll - which is not worth much - that had the following results:
Should 9-1-1 Calls be Broadcast on TV?
Yes, it's in the public interest 44.83%
No, it's a private matter 55.17%
The reporter's argument that broadcasting 911 calls is meritorious because they can become a "wake-up call" for other operators is a joke. If a 911 call can be instructive, make it a part of operators' training. Don't broadcast it on television (or radio).
It's pure sensationalism to broadcast the calls, which is why news outlets love to do it. But that's not a justifiable reason.
After the story, there were these comments:
I've never thought 911 calls should be made public. Medical records are confidential, and I consider a 911 call to be a part of a patient's medical record. In the case of celebrities, a 911 call might NOT be made for fear the recording would be made public.
911 calls create lazy reporting, in my opinion. Instead of digging for a good idea of where the story is right after the breaking of a story (respectfully, of course), too many news orgs just wait out the 911 call and hype it up to an extreme and call that "reporting". They never add anything to a report except stating the obvious that there's a situation of panic. It also puts 911 operators in the uncomfortable position of having to stick to a script because they're afraid of becoming highlighted as someone like the "pot brownie cop" idiot or can't have any skepticism whatsoever about the honesty of the caller, lest Supreme Judger Nancy Grace level a request they be fired.
All the electronic media is doing is satisfying the purient interest of their viewers/listeners in a grab for ratings. The more dramatic they can make it the better. The 911 call has no bearing on the who, what, when, why and how. EXCEPT if the 911 operator in the central part of the story due to lack of common sense or malfesence.
The News Media loves it! Bur it's wrong and a violation of individual privacy. All calls related to tragedies should be reviewed by professionals in law enforcement and local government as an ongoing training process. The public has no reason to hear these calls.
How would the journalists who expose personal issues of citizens like their personal lives being always open as part of their chosen profession?
As a 911 operator, I am unsure as to how releasing a call to the public does any good at all. We've never made our calls public and will only do so if ordered by a court. People trust us to keep their information confidential and releasing 911 calls to the public is a disservice the very citizens we serve.
I've always been offended by it, and immediately mute the sound when they're going to play one. It's a total invasion of privacy that's used for no other purpose than to "excite" the viewer. I actually knew River Phoenix, and it's hellish to hear a desperate call concerning someone you know playing out on TV for others' enjoyment. It's sick, so I can understand why so many Americans find it acceptable.
Does anyone really believe 911 operators aren't aware that people's lives may be in their hands?
911 recordings should only be broadcast if they're used as evidence in a court of law.
Regarding commenter Paul Tatara's remarks about River Phoenix. That 911 call was played back by Howard Stern while he (Stern) was making jokes about the police not responding promptly because they were busy eating donuts. Great fun with a tragedy. Laughs all around.