Did TV News Breast Exam Go Too Far?

by | October 30, 2009 at 10:33 AM | TV News

(ABC News)

(ABC News)

Update: The WJLA TV reporters who put together the report about breast exams have responded to criticism their story went too far by showing a naked breast. “We decided that we were going to do this very tastefully, very clinically,” reporter Gail Pennybacker told ‘Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor herself. “Everything is instructional.” “There’s nothing sexy about this,” reporter Julie Barker added. “It’s a breast self exam.”

(AP)
By SARAH KARUSH
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – The ABC affiliate here is airing a two-part series that takes a close – and unobscured – look at breast self-exams. The series is airing during the fall “sweeps” period critical for a TV station’s ad revenue, prompting concern by a parental watchdog group. But WJLA insists it’s not just a naked attempt to boost the ratings.

The two segments include clinical demonstrations of self-exams, and the breasts of the two volunteers are not blurred. They were to air during the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts Thursday and Friday.

WJLA officials said the segments are providing an important service because many women don’t know how to properly check their breasts.

“In talking to women, we found out there really weren’t a lot of women who knew how to do self breast exams,” station manager Bill Lord said.

The station’s adult viewers are 58 percent female, spokeswoman Abby Fenton said.

The Parents Television Council reacted cautiously to news of the series but suggested it saw the potential for problems.

“We hope that WJLA-TV is not using a crucial public health issue as a ratings stunt, and that the station has fully considered what is appropriate to tell this important story to the public in the most suitable manner possible,” the group said in a statement. That might mean different versions of the story at 5 p.m. and at 11 p.m., it added.

The segments will be breaking a broadcast television taboo against exposed breasts. The Federal Communications Commission fined CBS Corp. for the “wardrobe malfunction” that bared Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl. But Lord said he did not believe a clinical demonstration in a medical story on a news show would run into any trouble with decency standards.

One of the two women featured in the WJLA segments has breast cancer and caught it by doing a self-exam.

The reports also include interviews with Elizabeth Edwards and Tanya Snyder, the wife of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Both have been public about their struggles with breast cancer.

Not all breast cancer awareness advocates agree that self-exams are an effective tool. The WJLA segments don’t report on that controversy, instead focusing on how to do the exams correctly.

Lord said the issue is personal for him. His mother-in-law died of breast cancer, and his mother had the disease too.

“I have a wife and three daughters,” he said. “I want them to see this.”

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