– so asks Nick Robinson, formerly of the BBC, now ITN, in his Notebook column in The Times last Friday. This isn’t strictly about the BBC, although it is quite relevant to recent topics on Biased BBC. Here’s the rest of what he says on this subject:
WHAT a foul, nauseating stench of a week. Day after depressing day I have waited for a man to be brutally murdered as a spectacle for a watching world. Day after day I have watched a family’s agony. Day after day I have witnessed the Government’s apparent helplessness. How I hate the feeling that we are doing exactly what the hostage takers want. Every video of their butchery, every heart-rending appeal, every breathless countdown to a new deadline is part of a script which could have been written by the men holding a knife to Ken Bigley’s throat.
So why do we in the media play along? Please don’t think for a moment that we cover these events without the most careful thought. Each and every day my bosses at ITV News have issued new guidance to programme teams. Don’t talk of hostages being “executed”, read one, as it implies a legal punishment. Another decreed that we would not use the video and the (dreadful) sound of the moments before hostages die as this robbed them of their dignity. And so on. My boss says that these are some of the hardest editorial decisions he has had to take, for he must decide not only whether to show but also how much.
Why, though, don’t we simply refuse to play the terrorists’ game at all and not broadcast any of it? Why don’t we deny them what Margaret Thatcher once called “the oxygen of publicity”? News organisations do occasionally agree to news blackouts if they are advised that this will help to secure the safety of hostages. But to censor our coverage now would be a political act. We can no more censor images of the appalling deaths of hostages than we can of the victims of war. The Pentagon’s decision to refuse to allow pictures to be taken of coffins returning from Iraq was, I have little doubt, not simply to show respect, as officials claimed.
There is another problem. Even if all the terrestrial broadcasters wanted to we could not black out CNN, Fox and al-Jazeera, not to mention the internet. I have been shocked by the number of people I have spoken to who have watched the gruesome hostages videos on the web. I won’t. It is what they want me to do. It is down to each of us to find our own way of not giving the hostage takers what they want.