All entries for Wednesday 05 July 2006
July 05, 2006
Are there two sides to every story?
Martin Bell's main point over recent days has been that the BBC put football above the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan in their weekend bulletin
But what interests me more is whether Mr Bell (former journalist and MP) cares that for every British soldier that is killed in Afghanistan, many many more Afghans may have been killed in the firefight?
Evidence comes from Sunday Times reporter Christina Lamb, who while embedded with British forces in Afghanistan came under attack, and saw perhaps 25 Afghans killed in the process. But the deaths of those people went relatively unreported.
The same is happening in Iraq, where according to one NGO around 40,000 Iraqi "civilians" have probably been killed since the invasion began. Yet the number of US or British soldiers killed in Iraq is much more widely known (around 2500 and 115 respectively), and every milestone that's reached gets hours of coverage.
Similarly, in Palestine, around 4000 Palestinian citizens are thought to have been killed since 2000, although the number of Israeli deaths are thought to be far fewer (perhaps one–tenth the amount). Here again, suicide bombings are more widely reported than children killed at checkpoints.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of either side in any dispute, it seems clear that while there are two sides to every story, the reporting of each side is rarely balanced. And this very probably impacts on the way in which the story is interpreted by the public.
Another question is: how many deaths constitute a 'tragedy'? In the case of the London Bombings, it's clearly well under fifty (in fact IRA attacks which have caused no injury have received proportionately large levels of coverage). But in battles where we could perhaps be seen as the aggressor, the deaths of those on the other side are diminished by their under–reporting. Certainly, they may be harder to hear of, but websites such as Iraq Body Count prove that collecting such figures is possible, and they do most of it from newswires.
But for some reason, those newswires are being ignored by newsrooms who don't want to tell the British public about how many people our forces have killed. Even esteemed journalists such as Martin Bell seem to be more concerned by British servicemen's deaths than the considerably larger number of Iraqis and Afghanistanis who probably died on the same day.
Inevitably the following days will see an increase in features about the London bombings of July 7th last year. Indeed, there will probably be a number of blog entries similar in nature to this one.
But how much discussion - or chewing over - of the events is necessary?
Some news programmes have been running features every day of the week, leading up to Friday, while others have so far been more restrained. As I see it, the obvious angles are:
- Talking to the survivors about their experiences example
- Full detail about the event using evidence gained over the past year example
- Whether a similar attack is likely now example
- How has security been improved example
And then the stuff of opinion articles: Has the government successfully talked to Muslims? What is the state of Muslim extremism in Britain? Is the minute's silence appropriate, etc. etc.
But how many of these stories need to be chewed over again? Don't we already know precisely what happened (albeit not who 'masterminded' the attacks), and aren't we acutely aware that there are still people living in the UK who want to bring about a similar attack?
In my opinion, the only valid angle to the story is the tale of the survivors. That's why we're having a one–minute silence, and that's why we commemorate November 11th, nearly a hundred years after WWI. Only by remembering the tragic events can we appreciate how fragile life is, and how dangerous it can be too.
But I fail to see what we gain from some of the 'dramatic reconstructions' we'll inevitably see, with one exception. CBBC are doing a dramatisation of how children in London were affected by the day's events, and from the short bit of it I've seen it looks fantastic, without being alarmist. In fact it should probably be played in schools.
But for those of us who should be able to grasp what happened on July 7th, I can't help feeling that the mainstream media are in danger of patronising the audience, but more importantly, offending those who suffered in the attack, and who surely don't need to be reminded of the nature of the day and the continuing potential for further terrorist attacks in the UK.
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They've also dragged the BBC into it, saying they've ignored the story and would have caused a big stink if it had been a Conservative politician.
In both senses, they're wide of the mark. The 'story' is just speculation at the moment. It doesn't look enormously great, because there was a "potential" conflict of interest, although it's 1) only potential at the moment and 2) apparently weaker than first appeared because Prezza didn't have any say over Casino policy. He also claims he was on official business, which if true, puts a different spin on the story.
Nick Robinson has taken some heat for saying the BBC's held back on it because there didn't appear to be a definite story in there – more speculation than anything else – and criticised bloggers for being slightly lazier with the truth than paid journalists.
He's right, but his tone was perhaps a little obnoxious. Bloggers are, by and large, influenced by an agenda which journalists tacitly subordinate when they take up a job (especially a politics–related one), but journalists can learn some things from bloggers. Mainly, the 'blogosphere' helps bring stories to people's attention (see Cherie's signed copy of the Hutton Report for one), but also delivers stories at a faster speed.
Sadly speed often comes at the price of accuracy, and in the case of political blogs, seems to come increasingly ahead of objectivity. So while the number of blogs should be applauded for the likelihood of someone picking up on a story quicker than one guy sat in Whitehall, they should also learn a little from real journalists if they want to be seen to be playing a similar game.