BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
A few years ago I researched a Luftwaffe bomber that was brought down over Cheshire. Unpicking the story was fascinating. I had to delve into RAF archives and intelligence records with ‘SECRET’ stamped in the corner; I was lucky enough to find people still able to remember the event. The tale unfolded gradually, a complex but rewarding process of checking and cross-checking everything. The ‘plane, a Heinkel, was the only enemy aircraft to be shot down over what is now Greater Manchester. All of the crew parachuted clear and were arrested on the night; it had been pretty big news at the time. For all that, the local papers were of limited use as a source of information. It was 1941. Editorial policy and state decree ensured censorship was widely in place. Careless Talk Costs Lives.
We live in different times. Within minutes of Wednesday’s terrorist attacks in London all of the news channels were clamouring to be first with the details. Social media their apparent primary source, each of them began to speculate hysterically. Helicopters circled importantly above the scene, broadcasting close-up footage of the injured and dying, and of those who heroically tried to help. Even as police officers were still nervously pointing their carbines into the nooks and crannies of the Palace of Westminster, the ‘experts’ in the studio were giving us the benefit of their insights. Pretty soon they were falling all over each other in an unseemly hurry to be first to broadcast the carnage and fill in what they thought were the details (although as Channel 4 News may be about to expensively find out, it’s usually wise to check sources first). The whole thing was a circus. It was sickening. Very sadly, it’s what we have come to expect.
Thursday dawned angry, the country simmering over its cornflakes. Another vicious, evil bastard had brought indiscriminate death to our streets. There had been more arrests overnight and ‘operations were still ongoing’, but a picture was beginning to emerge. Once again the TV and radio overflowed with speculation. Absent any further devastation they were forced to chase ratings another way.
There are all manner of people at the fringes of British political life, all sides and opinions are represented. Some of them have been thrust there by circumstances beyond their control, some have chosen the path themselves. Such is the mood in this country (and others) in 2017 that many find some of them divisive. Rightly or wrongly, they are often perceived as wanting to politicise events. Media companies are not stupid. They know exactly what they are doing.
In the days immediately after 9/11 the BBC ran a Question Time programme in which a firebrand columnist berated a clearly distressed former US Ambassador to the UK. It was an awful thing to watch. The editorial decision to invite that particular guest, at that particular time, while the FDNY were still frantically digging, was grossly lacking in taste. By God, it got people talking though.
I believe that nobody, regardless of which side they represent or whether I happen to agree with their views or not, has any place being used as a ratings winner in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist event. It is neither the time nor place to risk fostering further division.
I Tweeted my thoughts. At once, there was a reaction. Some people ‘liked’ the Tweet, others insulted me. Castigation and compliment by roughly equal measure. I engaged with a handful of the coherent ones and explained my stance, pointing to the (as ever, vile) comments flooding Twitter as evidence. One or two even agreed (although nobody apologised for abusing me – isn’t Twitter lovely?). Eventually I deleted the Tweet. I realised the irony: I was adding to the problem in my own tiny way. I was helping to fuel the acrid mood.
Attempting to be provocative, which is exactly what news editors do, is absolutely wrong in time of national crisis. I’m a writer, as such I have huge problems with censorship. I don’t like it and I don’t want it. What I do want is to see a degree of editorial responsibility.
Leadership and unity should be the order of the day. To give them both their due, May and Corbyn got it absolutely right later on in the Commons. We are a deeply divided nation in many, many ways. The country is a powder keg for all sorts of different reasons. While so many of us are squabbling endlessly about Brexit or the NHS or Donald bloody Trump, our real enemies are out there, circling.
We can deal with these bastards quite easily. Though living among our community, they are tiny in number against us. But we have to do it together. Much was made of London’s Blitz Spirit yesterday. Perhaps it would help if those at the helm of our all-powerful media took note of this and acted with a degree of responsibility.
PC Keith Palmer
May they all Rest In Peace.