February 11, 2009

NBC’s war crimes ‘Predator’ gets criticism

NBC News is using its successful To Catch a Predator formula to search out war criminals, a practice several media observers say is questionable.

One of the network's first efforts, an investigation of a Maryland college professor on genocide charges, drew criticism from several sources, The New York Times reported Wednesday. In December, an NBC crew and a Rwandan prosecutor confronted Leopold Munyakazi with charges he participated in that country's genocide in 1994, which he denied.

In the original To Catch a Predator, NBC News teamed up with local police to trap sex offenders.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement it was concerned that a program of this kind could negatively impact law enforcement's ability to investigate and bring cases against the perpetrators of these horrible crimes.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the Times he contacted NBC-Universal's general council to air his concerns.

I was worried that a journalist was making false accusations, due to some extent to his close collaboration with the Rwandan government, Roth said.

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader for the non-profit Poynter Institute in Florida, said Predator ignores journalistic standards about independence.

It's a classic case where a news organization teamed up with a special interest that had an agenda, she said. As journalists, we struggle to keep an arm's length from all sorts of officials, whether they're cops or prosecutors or diplomats.