By Tony Gosling
NEW laws which have increased police powers since the ‘War On Terrorism’ began in 2001 can compromise the public’s right to a balanced version of events.
Add to this the increasing use by media managers of cheaper, less experienced writers to cover of major terrorist incidents and journalists’ professional standards are bound to slip.
So, in an initiative started by Tony Gosling, a Bristol member of the NUJ’s national Ethics Council, the union has been working with the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities to discuss omissions and inaccuracies in media coverage of ‘terror incidents’ in order to develop Guidelines To Reporting Terrorism.
Journalists do their best to provide balanced coverage of often chaotic major incidents. The Ethics Council found that police statements were usually unverifiable, yet journalists have little choice but to report them.
The council also found that evidence regularly emerges after the event that contradicts or even disproves police statements made in the heat of the moment. When these facts trickle out they often do not attract the same attention as the original story – leaving readers, viewers and listeners potentially misinformed.
The council also found that, on average, only one in five of those held in terror raids is ever charged and only one in 20 convicted. Yet innocent families are forced to live with the consequences of being accused for life.
The guidelines were launched in November 2009 at the NUJ’s Annual Delegate Meeting in Southport. A fringe meeting was addressed by former detainees who, though innocent, had been stigmatised by the coverage of the raids in which they were held and the unfair accusations levelled at them.
The meeting also heard by telephone from one man living under virtual house arrest under an official control order. The case against him was not held in public in the interests of national security. Known only as Detainee Y, he said, “I am in complete and utter isolation. It’s so physically and psychologically punishing.”
Arjum Wajid, a member of the NUJ Ethics Council, said: “There are people in this country who have been in prisons for a very long time without ever being charged at all. Despite all demonstrations these people still continue to be subjects of these laws.”
An audibly frightened Detainee Y said: “I’m being tortured in this country. I feel I’m living like a ghost. I have less rights than animals and am being abused by justice. My life is unbearable. Please help me.”
Families and minority communities can be plunged into shock by the power of the police and security services to make unfounded accusations. The NUJ’s Guide To Reporting Terrorism goes some way to ensuring that journlists covering such stories go equipped not to simply pass on the police’s version of events, but to deliver a balanced report.
Reporting Terrorism: NUJ Ethics Council guidelines
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
ADM Blog article on Guidelines launch
Filed Under: National NUJ