Sunday, July 31, 2005

Press coverage of terror raids

What was in many respects a major success in the War on Terror could have been a major tragedy. The timing of the raids on the north London flats seemed to have been forced upon UK authorities. Dawn raids have been a feature of most of the police operations in recent weeks. Maybe the imminent arrest of a suspect in Rome forced their hand. Nonetheless an operation was in full swing at around 10 a.m. Reporting of the events was restricted until the raid was well under way. And as the news filtered through it was clear the operation was significant. By mid afternoon news stations were reporting at least one bomber had been arrested. But the drama of what had occurred came into full focus when video footage surfaced on ITV News, and repeated on both Channel 4 News and CNN. As the raid started, an armed police officer, with dog in hand, attempted to gain entry or raise attention of the residents of a flat below the bombers' flat. However, as he kicked at the door, two small children exited from an adjacent flat. The children then appeared more interested in his large Alsatian than his gun. As they approached the dog the father is seen glancing around the door to see what the commotion is, only to retreat. The officer abandoned his attempt to enter the flat and Brian Dempster and his two children, Callum and Tehya, made their escape. The distraction of such an incident could have been fatal for the officer and the success of the operation. But little or no resistance was offered by either of the two suspects at the Peabody Estate, nor indeed in Rome where another suspect bomber was arrested. It could have been much worse. In Madrid, suspects wanted in connection with the train bombings in March 2004, detonated explosives, killing themselves and destroying their flat, as police moved in.
Now that all the wanted would-be bombers are in custody, many people are probably breathing a sigh of relief and dropping their guard. But a police spokesman yesterday [Friday] warned against complacency. "The threat remains and is very real" said the Deputy Asst Commissioner Peter Clarke, "We must be vigilant".
Many papers across the world covered the story of the dramatic arrests on their front pages. Many made use of pictures taken from the footage obtained exclusively by ITV News and the Daily Mail. The Sun had the headline "GOT THE BASTARDS", whilst the Mirror went with "GOT THEM". US newspapers brought the headlines "Got 'Em" from New York's Newsday, and "Al Qa-ught" from the New York Post. There was a major bidding war for the use of the stills from the video, and many papers did not use them. No doubt partly due to cost. The Daily Telegraph relied mainly on Associated Press photos and previously released CCTV photographs to identify the suspects. The Independent did manage to obtain its 'Exclusive' if somewhat fuzzy camera phone image from an Alan Simpson. And the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post made use of the same image from Dini Kennedy and Alan Simpson. Without the camera phones, residents' video cameras and stills taken from the BBC helicopter footage, there would be little record at all of the events of the day. By the time the media arrived, cordons were well in place. Most press photographs tended to be of police and or members of the public standing around near cordon tape. The only exception was that of anti-terrorist police officers in balaclavas, gas masks and Kevlar helmets, arming up before the raid. These were dramatic pictures too, however, the drama of the raid itself, seen by millions throughout the world, even if not quite in real-time was something rarely seen. It is only a matter of time before someone uses their webcam to do a live stream to Sky or BBC 24 during an unfolding news event in the future.
[03:30 GMT 31/07/2005]

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