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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Debate over hostage coverage
Ken Bigley in a video released by his captors
Ken Bigley pleaded for his life in a video released on Wednesday
A debate has begun among media commentators over whether the British media should give "the oxygen of publicity" to the kidnappers of Ken Bigley.

Some argue that showing videos made by the Briton's captors merely plays into the hostage-takers' hands and encourages terrorism.

Others disagree, saying that such videos are news, and that to refuse to show them would be a political act of censorship.

Ahmad al-Rikaby, founder of Baghdad's first talk radio station, Radio Dijla, described UK television's coverage of the hostage crisis as "blood shows".

"[The publicity] is helping them to recruit more members to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a interview for Sunday's Observer newspaper, said the hostage-takers holding Mr Bigley were "manipulating" the media in pursuit of their goal of destabilising Iraq.

He said they believed: "they can use and manipulate the modern media to gain enormous publicity for themselves and put democratic politics and politicians in a very difficult position".

He added groups such as the one holding Mr Bigley "are there in Iraq to try and stop the country getting better, to murder anyone who tried to help its reconstruction or its democratic process.

"And our response, surely, has got to be to stand firm against that."

Adrian Van-Klaveren, BBC's head of newsgathering, told Today the videos contained "real information".

He admitted the hostage situation was "an incredibly difficult area".

But he said it was vital to show videos and images from the hostage-takers with "context and explanation".

[The videos] contain real information about whether people are dead or alive
Adrian Van-Klaveren
BBC's head of newsgathering

He said: "The reality is these people have been kidnapped, there are the videos, and the videos contain real information.

"They contain real information about demands being made by the terrorists, they contain real information about whether people are dead or alive."

The pair were discussing the media coverage of Mr Bigley's kidnapping alongside former Guardian editor Peter Preston.

Spin tactics

Mr Preston urged British newspapers to take a "more muted" approach to the crisis.

He compared UK coverage of Mr Bigley's ordeal with coverage in the US of the fates of two American co-hostages, both of whom were executed.

He said: "They have not actually not reported it, but I think the Washington Post put it on page 27.

"That's the kind of mid-way I think we ought to be thinking about."

He added that the terrorists were using spin tactics and accused the British media of being "too easily manipulated".

There has been no word on Mr Bigley since he was seen pleading for his life in a video posted on a militant-linked website on Wednesday.

It's a very sad story but the reality is that the British hostage in Iraq is not the only hostage
Ahmad al-Rikaby
Mr al-Rikaby urged the media to remember there were also hundreds of Iraqi hostages.

He said: "It's a very sad story but the reality is that the British hostage in Iraq is not the only hostage.

"We have hundreds of Iraqis who have been kidnapped in recent months including children, including women.

"Those people don't have a face in the media - it's normally the western hostages who have their faces in the media."

How do you think the media should cover hostage crises? This debate has now closed and this is a representative sample of your views.


There is no need to broadcast the actual video of hostages kneeling in front of terrorists. All relevant information can be provided by the newscaster verbally. In showing the video, UK media is encouraging the continuation of hostage taking.

We all know that agreeing to the demands of terrorists is not the right way to beat them, so why do we help them out in this way?

The fact that there are hundreds of Iraqi hostages as well makes me deeply ashamed of UK media. Why are we not talking about that as well? They're our bothers and sisters as well!
Philip, Whitley Bay

I have been watching the news about the hostages and I do believe that we should NOT show this kind of news, for the simple fact that I feel it does encourage ANY kidnappers, it will split our country faster than anything I know.

Who do you know that doesn't watch news or telly? These people are doing what they set out to do, destroy our country, one way or another!
Virginia Van Fossen, Oldbury, West Midlands

Increase or decrease the coverage, does it matter? What matters is whether it encourages the terrorist activities.

Money is why there is so much press coverage. If the press think it will sell newspaper copies, or the BBC thinks it will increase viewing figures, they will publish it.

Who is worse, the terrorists or the press, they are both taking advantage of the victims and their families? It will stop if people don't pay, but that's an easy thing to say.
Peter Downing, London, England

Yes we should know what is happening to one of our UK citizens and his poor family. Yes - anybody should do all possible to save his life.

However - the UK population seem to have developed an unhealthy taste for, and even an addiction to, graphic detailed visual images of violence and death.

The time has come for media people to think about what they are doing and the consequences of their decisions to our society by constantly widely broadcasting such images.

This exposure by the UK media desensitises people to the horror of the reality of the terrible happenings in our 21st century world.

In these technological times it must be possible for media people to make the violent images available BY CHOICE - to be accessed only by logging on to an adult webpage.
Lindsay, Cambridge.

During the original invasion, the media was more than happy to show Rumsfeld talking about "shock and awe" and so many times we saw Allied bombs hitting targets in Iraq.

People seem to ignore the fact that with each of those bombs, people died, children were maimed, families were destroyed. Iraqi civilians are also getting abducted far more frequently than Western citizens.

The hierarchy of the value of human life in the media, based on nationality and ethnicity, is sickening.
Paul Beckitt, Warlingham, Surrey

The press always wheel out the 'it's censorship' argument every time they are taken to task about something they have printed.

Let's be honest, news like this sells papers and increases ratings. If they took a common sense approach - no publicity - to these evil people they would starve them of what they need to survive.

Would they do that? Of course not, for fear of the rival TV station/newspaper getting ahead. This isn't censorship. The story can be released en masse when the crisis is over. Police often prevent the media from giving details of crimes out so they can carry out a more effective investigation. How is this any different?

Unfortunately, the situation for the families involved is horrific either way.
Jon Wright, London UK

I know this will sound heartless, but why the media frenzy anyway? There have been countless hostage situations, yet this one has been on all the news channels day in day out since it began.

I would be demanding an end to the publicity if I was a family member of the hostage.
James Hardaker, Skegness, England

The BBC should certainly not flinch from reporting these events - whilst continuing the same standards of taste and decency it currently adopts.

Such material as has been released on websites will be available on the internet for those who wish to be further shocked - yet these clips will not have the informed comment or reaction of the general populace and specialists in the field. There must be no blackouts - that would create political advantages as well.
Dave, Aylesbury, UK

Just call yourselves Al Jazeera (BBC) - and the rest of the UK TV media the equivalent.

You are fulfilling precisely the same function as they do by giving the terrorists a platform and publicising the agonies and the understandable, but sadly misdirected, comments of the Bigley family.
James Cheetham, Eastbourne UK

It is appropriate to provide the facts - including video, although clearly not actual killings. It is not appropriate to provide those facts 24/7 over and over and over but nor is it appropriate to bury the story of this first British hostage on page 27.

Whether it is the video of Mr Bigley or statements by his family - these are legitimate stories but the emphasis is out of all proportion.
Cynthia Stewart, London, England

I feel that showing the videos on TV is very degrading for the hostage and their family. I think that we should be told the name of the hostage but the line should be drawn there.
Ashley Smith, Leicester, UK

If we were not embroiled in this fiasco there would be no need for these highly publicised murders. Withdraw from Iraq now!
Nick Haslam, Uwajima, Japan

Where coverage can do something good, then it is useful. If it serves terrorism or is exploited for party political gain or opportunism then there is nothing good about it.

As citizens it is right that we are informed and concerned, but such concern must be muted by the rights of relatives and victims, and responsibility to national security.

We must be knowledgeable but not exploitative.
Kirsty Trigg, Cambridge, Cambs

I feel that showing the videos on TV is very degrading for the hostage and their family. I think that we should be told the name of the hostage but the line should be drawn there.

Seeing Ken Bigley plead for his life on the news is extremely degrading, upsetting and isn't really required in a report.
Ashley Smith, Leicester, UK

I think it's important to acknowledge these acts of violence, however if there was no audience, what would they achieve ? Difficult for the families of hostages either way.
Kat, UK/US

It's not fair! We should get on with our own lives and leave them alone.
Stu, Manchester

Were we consumed by such angst when we watched stage-managed pictures filmed by night vision cameras of British and American bombers slaughtering the people of Baghdad? I don't think so.

Of course we should see media coverage of everything that's happening in Iraq. Otherwise we will not recognise the irony of Tony Blair talking about terrorists manipulating the media.
Mike Philpott, Northern Ireland

How can you understand why a people do something without knowing what they'd done?
Jo Irvine, CA

I have always been of the opinion that the media are inadvertently becoming a party to the crimes of the hostage-takers. In this respect I particularly criticise some Arab news channels which show long statements by the hostages and seem to act as their mouthpiece at times.

Whilst censorship is undesirable in usual circumstances, a degree of self-restraint by the media is required in this instance and if they do not comply they should be made to by law.
Dr Haider Al-Najjar, Iraqi in UK

How can you understand why a people do something without knowing what they'd done? Not showing them won't stop recruitment, the Eastern media will still report, but it will stop British and American audiences from knowing what is happening.

Unless one assumes the public is so stupid that it must not be allowed knowledge, then it is owed truth.
Jo, Irvine, CA

Its quite sickening how certain websites seem to be glamorising the recent beheading videos as if its the latest horror film release. They are created purely to horrify and sicken the Westernised world. Viewing them is playing right into the murderers hands as they hope we are watching their barbaric acts. Ban the hosting of these vile clips.

They can't create a fire if there's no fuel to ignite it.
Christian, Sheffield

There should be a publicity black out. The high profile publicity given to this and other atrocities feeds the evil minds of the terrorists, give them the notoriety they crave and does nothing to help the victims.

Seeing the families begging, crying for their loved ones is great news but poor politics it will not change the course of history. In all probability the decision if the act of murdering this man is done already.
Stuart Hewlett-Clarke, Manchester England

The British media are giving such coverage to the hostage crisis that it is bringing the terror right into our very homes. Surely with the terrorists being given such maximum coverage this will only increase the hostage takings.
Matthew Morris, Leiden, Netherlands

Its a tragic set of circumstances but is the fate of one British man of so vital national importance? To his family and friends, I am sure it is.

To the general public, its a situation that I doubt anyone agrees with and that many, myself included, would like to keep abreast of and feel wholeheartedly for Mr Bigley, his family and friends.

The problem as I see it is that, while this is newsworthy, it is getting far too much exposure when compared to other events going on in the world and the UK.

Perhaps the question ought to be whether the news media as a whole should be considered to have an obligation to report ALL the news in an unbiased and clear manner.

At the end of the day, as a business, I think it's clear that it will not.
Paul, London, UK

As an expat living here in DC I am appalled at what I see as a hush hush of the hostage situation by Bush and his administration. We should be doing everything we can to have saved these hostages, instead it is pushed aside and put in a small section of the newspapers. If we need to take to the streets to free these men then we should. I applaud the British for keeping this on the front pages and on the web sites. I have more of a glimmer of hope for the our British man, than those poor Americans. Keep it in the headlines for Ken's sake.
Nicky, Washington DC.

Yet again even through some of the comments on this article we see the failure of some people here in the west to actually understand what is going on in that area of the world.

Most of the hostages abducted have been Iraqi citizens, ie businessmen and the more wealthy of Iraq's citizens. The foreign hostages make up a tiny percentage of the total taken and the groups like Tawhid and Jihad are ransoming these Iraqis for hard currency, it is all about "money". The foreign hostages are used by these groups for legitimisation of their criminal activities.

My heart goes out to Ken Bigley's family and the families of all the hostages held in Iraq, foreign or Iraqi nationals.

But publicly airing even a small snip its of execution videos and ransom demands (which are always vague and designed to be impossible to meet) is a tragic mistake which aides these groups in every way and draws in supporters from the surrounding countries on Iraq's borders, the consequence of giving these groups a platform will cost only more lives in the long run.
Alexander McGill, Glasgow, Scotland

Coverage should be continuous so that no one is in an information vacuum (including no new information), but should omit too much personal or emotional material beyond the facts. In other words - news.
Donald Anderson, Umbertide Italy

Journalists might ask themselves why they're not so very interested in the deaths of God knows how many Iraqi women and children. Why aren't there images of their desperate relatives on TV every night? Perhaps they're not as "human" as us. Shame on all of you.
Pete,

This debate would be fine if the media were objective and impartial about the reasons for invading Iraq, thus exposing the real reasons for the invasion. The media didn't do this and thus were helpful to Bush and Blair, so now they must report the other side of this occupation in as much as they did ,including the details of the prisoners/hostages in order to be unhelpful to Bush and Blair. And that's how you balance it out.
Bilal Patel, London, UK

This is a very difficult situation, and the media has an important role to play. It is the media's duty to report the facts, and it is the public's duty to interpret the facts as given.

Self censorship of the more brutal aspects of the beheadings or the siege of Beslan are necessary for public decency. However they must be reported if not visually then verbally.

On the whole I think that the British media behave in a responsible manner to inform the public they serve. We need to know the facts but these must be given within the boundaries of decency and with respect to the families who are directly involved.
Chris Linthwaite, Yorkshire.

Report events by all means but do not disclose on any account whatsoever either the name of the victim, the town he/she lives or the name of the organisation involved. It is when these affairs become personalised that the media goes far too far. The only end result is that the whole thing becomes a sick circus - as in this case, unfortunately.
David Hunt, France.

Whilst feeling desperately sorry for Mr Bigley and his family, I really believe that this publicity is playing into the kidnappers' hands. The plight of all those kidnapped, of whatever nationality - including Iraqis - is dreadful. That one man of British nationality is in this situation is neither more nor less newsworthy or tragic.
Denise Farrar, Tyne and Wear.

I think the media should keep facts and images to a minimum and avoid sensational or emotional material. By way of example not many of us in the UK really want to see an elderly, distraught mother in her 80s begging for her son's life on our news screens, even though such a video plea might be useful in saving the hostage if sent to the Middle Eastern media.
Patrick Chance, London.

Here in France the media reports the hostage taking as in the UK, but draws the line at showing the murders on TV news. This would appear to be non-sensational yet at same time deals with facts.
John Ogden, Paris.

What would it achieve by not showing the videos, when there is little desperate hope as it is?.
Jason, UK.

The media should report the facts as received. If those facts show war and its consequences as being barbaric, tragic and bloody, which is always the case, then maybe we the people and our political class will be less gung ho about promoting an unjust war in the future.
Ian Waterson, Sheffield




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