Wednesday 12 September 2001

A few American friends have

A few American friends have asked me how much coverage yesterday’s events are getting over here. There is only one word: saturation. People joke that the British talk of nothing else but the weather – well, today there is only one topic of conversation, and it has nothing to do with the rain that is forecast.
The traditional media have struggled to cope with the events. The lack of reliable information, the problem of rumour and counter-rumour (witness my earlier post about the explosions in Kabul), the simple problem of comprehending the scale of the acts has led to an obfuscation, a lack of clarity. Even in their new media forms, the news channels struggled to cope – both CNN and BBC Online were inaccessible for a while.
That most basic and robust of media, radio, seems to have won through in providing current and (reasonably) accurate information in the most immediate fashion. BBC 5 Live was yesterday carrying live reporting with interviews with eyewitnesses and people who had escaped the buildings involved and witnessed the events. BBC Radio 4 this morning was pointing out that the 45 people who died in the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania have been more or less forgotten by the rest of the media – even the 800 that may have perished at the Pentagon are given only the smallest amount of coverage, yet there must be many thousands of people who are worried for loved ones there. And I have already mentioned APN News Radio, which was providing excellent impassioned reporting of the events as they unfolded, with interviews with witnesses and experts.
And of course, bloggers have been commenting and reporting events. Meg has drawn up a good list of blogs including some eyewitness accounts. Many others from all around the world have been writing their opinions and reactions, ranging from shock and outrage to fury to dismay to fear and worry. I’m sure that somewhere online are bloggers that hold the opposite view that is being promoted by some people in the Middle East. At times like this, bloggers can act as unpaid, independent journalists and commentators, answerable to nobody and with only themselves as their editor. That is one of the strengths of free personal publishing in such an immediate form as this.
Other good analysis is beginning to appear elsewhere. The Independent today carries an article by Mary Dejevsky which concentrates on the theme I raised here last night – that the American perception of invulnerability has been severely damaged. The same paper carries editorial expressing the fear I have already hinted at – that the response of the Bush administration will lead to a deepening spiral of violence, and that these deaths will not have led to anything approaching a positive outcome – that they will be lives wasted. I have received criticism this morning, particularly from American readers of this site, for expressing those views, but they are my opinions and I feel that they should be addressed. In no way does that diminsh the horror of what has happened.
The world has never seen anything quite on this scale. But I do not think it is unreasonable to draw comparisons with other events. The IRA bomb in Omagh led to a hope and fervent desire that the years of killing in Northern Ireland could be brought to an end. As we have seen recently, sometimes that desire is not always satisfied, but it remains – and whilst it remains, democratic and peaceful civilisation will endure. As soon as we descend into revenge and recrimination, then hope is lost – witness the seemingly endless and bloody situation that persists in Israel and Palestine.
As a global community, we must, of course, do all we can to support and assist the injured and bereaved. But our response must always be reasoned and measured – if it is not, then we will have lowered ourselves to the same level as the perpetrators.


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