News values 

11 July 2005

In pictures: London blasts [BBC – caution, possibly disturbing images]

At the point that terror came to London, two of Transdiffusion’s staff were coincidentally on trains heading to the scene. Our 2 hour journey from Merseyside became a 5 hour journey, plus a walk from Paddington to Waterloo for our connecting train. Inconvenient but, on that day of all days, absolutely nothing compared to what happened to over 700 other people.

We were on our way to Belgium for a weekend break, and arrived in the beautiful town of Ieper in Flanders just before midnight – only 5 hours late.

There, after the quickest check-in at a hotel ever, thanks to sympathetic and worried staff, we did what all British people do in times of stress (after having a cup of tea) – put the television on and tune to BBC-1.

Having kept in touch with the news via BBC Online’s WAP service and text messages from friends, the news wasn’t new to us. But to see it happening and get it analysed – well, that’s what the BBC is for.

Belgium is the most cabled society in the world, so the choice, even on a non-digital system, of channels is immense. We had BBC-1, -2 and World, Meridian, VRT, RTBF, ARD and ZDF, NOS, TVE, CNN and CNBC amongst others.

Once brought up to speed by the excellent BBC coverage, we began (terribly) to channel surf.

And here’s the point of this post. There was, certainly by Friday afternoon, a major difference between what the networks showed; and I’m not sure what the reason for the difference is.

NOS, the Dutch neutral broadcaster that provides the majority of news coverage on the 3 Dutch networks, had the first pictures from mobile phone users. Pictures and sound of inside of the trains was on air unedited before anyone else – all analysed and placed in context.

VRT, the Flemish state broadcaster, followed, then RTBF (the Wallonian one), then the BBC almost 24 hours later. It was Sunday before CNN picked up the pictures – but severely edited them.

By Saturday, NOS had further footage. This was from professional cameramen. It showed, in detail, victims with severe burns receiving CPR. Bodies around the bus could be seen. The dead, on stretchers and covered up, were shown.

VRT and RTBF followed and showed most of these terrible pictures. TVE showed some of them.

The BBC, however, seemed to have shown none of them. This makes sense, as the BBC’s domestic viewers are likely to be affected by the images. But BBC World also didn’t show them.

I’m certainly not arguing for these images to be shown by either the BBC or ITN. I don’t wish to second-guess the reasons for the editors to ignore them – they’ve spent hours considering why and the sin of omission certainly has less punishment than showing them would attract.

Most interesting was CNN. Perhaps I have preconceived notions of American news output. I was certainly expecting, having found these images sensitively presented by NOS, to have them running over and over and over on CNN.

I was wrong. Not a whiff of disturbing images, beyond shots of the general destruction, made it to CNN. The mobile footage was largely shown mute (the BBC joined NOS in playing the screaming loudly) and was heavily edited – stills rather than video for many features.

For once on this blog, I’m making no argument either way on this; there are bigger issues than a webpage can easily discuss and, like most people, words fail me when trying to describe my feelings over this atrocity.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Tuesday 16 April 2024