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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 11:28 GMT
The year in issues: Video terror
The US elections, the insurgency in Iraq, Yasser Arafat's death, this year had its big news stories. But what else made a splash in 2004?

The BBC News website looks at some of the issues that got the pundits pondering this year. Click on the links below to find out more.

Video terror




World War II

Role of the blog

Video terror

Video terrorism is not in itself new. Terrorists have long filmed their actions in the hope of instilling fear in those who watch.

Angelo de la Cruz
Lorry driver Angelo de la Cruz was freed
But, this year a number of factors - the insurgency in Iraq and the existence of 24-hour global news channels - merged to create a new, potent role for such recordings, and a chicken and egg debate within the media.

The grotesque plot the videos of hostage-taking in Iraq followed became all too familiar. A hostage, frequently clad in the same orange jumpsuit worn by the inmates of Guantanamo Bay, would utter the demands of the masked captors who usually stood behind them.

For some, there were happy endings. Filipino driver Angelo de la Cruz, who appeared in two video recordings, was released after his home country rushed its troops out of Iraq ahead of schedule. But many others, including the international aid worker Margaret Hassan, were less fortunate.

Although it is films from Iraq that are principally associated with the video terrorism of 2004, the footage of the suffering in the gymnasium during the Beslan school siege in September, taken by the Chechen hostage takers, also stirred intense emotions.

The atrocities these videos showed were condemned in no uncertain terms across the globe. More controversial was the role of the media in providing an outlet for these recordings.

Questions were asked as to what extent it was perpetuating such atrocities by taking these videos - albeit rarely in their entirety - and broadcasting them far and wide.

Was the media somehow making itself complicit, the pundits asked. Was it even encouraging attacks by offering perpetrators access to their audiences?

Ahmad al-Rikaby, founder of Baghdad's first talk radio station, Radio Dijla, described some of the coverage as "blood shows". "The publicity is helping them to recruit more members to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda," he warned.

But the opponents of self-censorship argued the coverage must continue, declaring editors had a duty - within the boundaries of taste and decency - to show what was happening. The videos were a legitimate part of the story, they continued. Hostages should not be left to suffer in silence.

Nonetheless, as the videos continued to roll in, a number of international media outlets started to show greater reservations about the broadcasts.

Western media organisations increasingly stopped using moving images from the footage, preferring instead to offer simply a still from the video which transmitted the horror of the situation - but gave no more.

And the major Arabic satellite channels also started to shy away. Abu Dhabi TV, for instance, refused to show the video it said it had of British contract worker Kenneth Bigley's killing in October, while al-Jazeera decided against broadcasting any images from a film of aid worker Margaret Hassan in November pleading for her life.

The channel said the footage was "too distressing" to show.


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