Tuesday, July 17, 2007

FEAR HYPE: Recycled terrorism hysteria

We were first alerted to a scaremongering BBC news report by its trailer. Shown an hour or so before the BBC1 Ten O'Clock News (23/1/07), the trailer boasted that the news would be featuring dramatic images of an alleged terrorist bombing plot.

This was indeed the headline story of the Ten O'Clock News, which began with the following announcement:

"Dramatic new images of the moment an alleged suicide bomber tried to blow up a train. [The images are shown together with the dramatic introductory music to the news] He's challenged by an off-duty fireman as a mother and young baby look on. Panic as the carriage empties within seconds, but a few passengers give chase. On the run, Ramzi Mohammed – he and five others deny conspiracy to murder".

Frightening and alarming stuff. Anyone watching at this point would be forgiven for thinking that some new terrorist atrocity had taken place. After all, it's headline news - it must be a fresh story?

It's not until a few minutes later that we hear what it's really about:

"The jury in the case of six men accused of plotting to bomb the London transport network has been shown dramatic new images of events on the 21st of July 2005."

In other words, the headline news story is that a court has been shown some 18-month-old images.

ITN's virtual news story

A similarly scaremongering approach was taken by ITN in its coverage (1/3/07) of the alleged "Birmingham terror plot", in which some people were alleged to be planning a kidnapping and (it's rumoured) a beheading. With nothing more substantial to go on than allegations and rumours (and government spin), ITN ran a headline story which took up most of its 30-minute 10.30pm News slot.

Every conceivable fear-raising device was used – old archive footage of terrorists and terrorist beheadings, gratuitous ruminations on the effects of such terrorist attacks becoming widespread in Britain, alarming but baseless speculations, more footage of terrorist executioners standing behind their blindfolded victims, wielding instruments suitable for decapitation, etc.

At one point a commentator stated that the terrorists didn't need to successfully carry out their plans – that their goals were accomplished simply by bringing fear to the country. He said this without any hint of irony in a "news" report which seemed to accomplish precisely this goal.


If you notice any similar TV coverage, you might want to contact those responsible (eg see the following). We'd also be grateful if you could forward us the details.

Helen Boaden (Director, BBC news)

Craig Oliver (Editor, BBC1 Ten O'Clock News)

Jonathan Munro (Head of news, ITN)

Ian Rumsey (Editor, ITV News)

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