Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Undeserved Notoriety?

Glasgow Airport
Glasgow Airport - Another terrorist incident?
We're now into our fourth hour of coverage of the incident today at Glasgow Airport.

It has been almost continuous coverage, no breaks for a brief round up of other news let alone sport or weather. Without a doubt it deserves to be the lead story and a certain prominence on any self-respecting 24 hour news outlet, but this much?

Frankly, the whole story can be told in every bit of detail that is known, every pertinent eyewitness statement listened to, and every bit of expert and not-so-expert analysis analysed in less than ten minutes, so all we are getting is the usual almost unchanging loop. I don't seek to minimise what could have been a much more serious incident, but I still think it is overkill.

I should say that it is not yet known whether this incident represents a rather unsuccessful terrorist attack, or something else, but for the sake of argument let us assume it is. I suspect that it is a sad reality that we will have to face incidents like this on a fairly regular basis for many years to come. There's actually very little we can do about it. As a country, we could exit Iraq tomorrow and adopt a rabidly anti-Israeli stance on the world stage and, let's be honest, it would make very little difference. At heart, for the fundamentalists, it is not what we do, but what we are, and the liberal values we espouse. They fear the attraction of the these values over their primitive values of centuries ago; they are right to fear our values, because basically they are right and respect the best of humanity's natural instincts, rather than the baser superstitions and hatreds that they appeal to.

It's natural that at the moment we tend to over play incident's such as today's with the genuine horrors of the London tube bombings still a relatively recent memory, but I really don't think we can afford to give them such prominence in the future. I'm no expert on terrorism, but I suspect that there are just as few evil geniuses in these organisations, capable of creating slaughter on a mass scale, as there are geniuses in any other organisation capable of coming up with a great eureka moment to the benefit of society. While I reluctantly expect we will see more such incidents, I suspect the vast majority will be similar to today's shambolic affair thankfully. Yes, the incident today could have been a lot worse, but given the mechanisms they opted for, the chances of it having being so were probably pretty limited. I remember listening to some stunt director once explaining just how hard it is to make a car explode in that spectacular Hollywood way.

News reporting needs to be full, frank and detailed, but also needs to avoid giving undue prominence to these groups. Frankly, all I want to hear about it now, much of the basic detail being known, is in the days to come whether the alleged perpetrators had links to any known groups or whether this was an ad hoc set of loners, and in the distant future, whether a jury finds them guilty and of what charges. Should they disappear behind bars to spend the rest of their miserable lives in highly sub-standard state accommodation then that is the last I will think of them.

It's especially the "panic and fear" phrase being used by the current BBC anchor that is starting to grate. It seems to fly in the face of all but one of their own eyewitness accounts and plays into the hands of those who try to sell us on deeply objectionable concepts such as ID cards and lengthy detention without charge.

Just before posting my favourite blog read at the moment, Devil's Kitchen has commented on some web coverage of the incident. At first reading I thought it represented a view very different from my own, but actually on second reading I think I agree with him, as well. We should take all incidents seriously and responsibly, because as the Devil himself says:
"Now, it is all very well for The Register to talk about Beavis and Butthead bombings, but just because these arseholes haven't been able to make a competent bomb does not mean that they neither desired to nor could not actually do so with a bit more thought."

Devil's Kitchen

He's right, but I guess all I'm suggesting is that there is a balance to be struck between over trivialising incidents like this one, and aiding terrorists in their aims by creating an excessive climate of fear through media coverage. As for his own criticisms on the way these incidents are reported as well his more practical suggestions on dealing with the menace, and all I can say is hear hear.

I should say that in all of this I'm not suggesting there is any real intent on the part of the BBC or Sky, who've been going down pretty much the same line. Stories like this will always have their macabre fascination for a large portion of their audiences, and I suppose for the journalists involved, it's the type of story they always imagined themselves covering one day as they set out on their careers. There is however need for some care in what they do because by it's nature terrorism is a publicity hungry beast. If we are not careful we will see a journalistic analogye of science's observer effect (sometimes wrongly assumed to be the same as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) emerge, where the act of observation effects the outcome of the experiment, and to an extent we always have, where the newsworthy becomes the preferred target, rather than necessarily the symbolic or even the greatest carnage.

Oh, and a final pre-beer comment. Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary, seemed terribly uncomfortable and lightweight compared to her predecessors. Jack Straw aside, I've hated all NuLab's occupants of this role more then those in any other front line job, Broon notwithstanding. That said, if you are going to have an authoritarian control freak with no regard to our traditional liberties to do the job, you may as well have one that sounds the part.

Update 8:35PM: I've just realised it was rather remiss of me to mention the Devil without thanking him for organising the enjoyable Libertarian UK drinks on Thursday evening. As the Devil himself pointed out, trying to get people of a Libertarian outlook together is a bit like herding cats, but he did manage to get a lot of people in the same room, and was a pretty effective catherd, even of some of the more feral beasts.

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