After the tragic death of Jason Dupasquier over the weekend, the coverage of serious accidents has again been called into question, as TV cameras fixed themselves on Dupasquier as marshals tried to save his life.
This is not the first time the broadcast of a serious accident has been criticized. Indeed it’s not even been 12 months since the last time a racing series was criticized for its broadcast of an accident. The 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix was marred by the crash of Romain Grosjean, which the FOM then proceeded to show over and over again, upsetting and angering the drivers and fans as it was unnecessary. The accident between Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli in the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix is another example of this.
What differs from those incidents to this one though, is the distinct lack of respect and lack of privacy the MotoGP broadcaster, Dorna Sports, showed for Dupasquier, his family, and all who were watching. They kept the cameras on the scene as marshals desperately tried to save his life, and things got so bad that the marshals had to erect black screens around the rider, at an event with no fans, to keep the cameras off him.
Numerous high-profile journalists, riders, and fans are obviously less than impressed by the events that transpired, but the question is, how can motorsports broadcasters tiptoe the line between enough and too much?
Well the immediate answer, which should be common sense, is don’t show live pictures of those involved getting emergency treatment. That was where Dorna messed up in Italy, and it was disrespectful to the riders, upsetting for the viewers, and unnerving for the MotoGP riders, who had to go out for qualifying immediately after. Formula 1 has done well in this aspect over previous years, in accidents such as Grosjean’s, and the Formula 2 accidents of the late Anthoine Hubert and Nobuharu Matsushita in 2019.
Then, when it comes to replays, the viewer does have a right to know what happened if the incident wasn’t broadcast live. If it was, and the condition of the driver or rider is uncertain, then there really is no need for a replay. If the accident happened off-camera and the crash has already happened by the time the cameras switch, one replay should do it. Not 20, not five, one. Even if those involved in the accident are ok, the race would obviously have been red-flagged, but there is again no need for more than a few replays.
One series which has mastered the walk of this tightrope in recent years is IndyCar. The American-based series is no stranger to large accidents, with recent ones being that of Robert Wickens in 2018, Conor Daly in 2016, and Ryan Briscoe a year earlier. Even in the serious accidents of Dario Franchitti, Mike Conway, and the fatal crashes of Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson, IndyCar remained open yet respectful throughout the crash and subsequent medical attention. Occasionally there were views of the car in question, however, they were generally aerial or wide-angle shots and didn’t last long. They also almost always ensure the helmets and body of the drivers are not in view of the cameras that are broadcasting the feed.
IndyCar also showed some sporadic replays throughout those crashes, but few were close-ups of the incidents themselves, meaning the viewer knew what was going on, but wasn’t inundated by distressing images either. Formula 1 and MotoGP could stand to learn a few lessons from series like IndyCar, who do have serious incidents more often, and thus know how to better cover them when they do happen.