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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
How did the media report the USA attacks?
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To discuss this issue BBC media correspondent Nick Higham hosted a live forum with Eastern Eye editor Abul Tahir, editor of MediaGuardian.co.uk, Lisa O'Carroll and American network, ABC's Nathan Thomas.


Highlights of the interview:


Newshost:

Abul, you are obviously closely in touch with the Muslim community in Britain how do you think, as a representative of that community, the mainstream British media have been reporting this over the past two weeks?


Abul Tahir:

The response we have been having in our office from readers and so on - the coverage has been very fair - that word always comes up. The coverage by the mainstream media has been very fair. What surprised everyone is the stance the Sun newspaper took. It was expected that the Sun would take a very Right-wing approach to everything and perhaps put Muslims under the same umbrella as terrorists. But the fact that the Sun made this distinction and urged its readers not to judge not to judge the Muslim community here - as well as Muslims around the world - by the actions of the terrorists. That was very surprising.


Newshost:

Do you care to guess why they did that?


Abul Tahir:

I have got a friend who works for the News of the World and he said it was because the Sun supports New Labour and New Labour officials apparently have advised the Sun not to antagonise the Muslim community here. So according to him, as a result the Sun has taken this approach. I think the Sun has led the way for all the tabloids in condemning terrorism but at the same time being sensitive to the Muslim community - or the Asian community at large here.


Newshost:

Lisa O'Carroll, yesterday the Prime Minister's official spokesman in Britain urged newspapers not to go over the top in reporting the threat to people living here in Britain. We were told by one newspaper that Osama Bin Laden had threatened to "nuke" the UK. There was also a letter from the "D" notice committee, which is a sort of informal advisory body on matters of national security, urging news media to play down speculation about future military action. Do you detect something going on here on the part of the Government?


Lisa O'Carroll:

I think they are trying to do what they did during the Gulf War to control the media. How successful they will be remains to be seen.


Newshost:

Do you think the media are readily controllable? During the Gulf there were notable examples of reporters going off and doing their own thing?


Lisa O'Carroll:

Yes, I think it is very difficult for the Government to control newspapers in particular but television might be more susceptible to influence. I think here even the BBC has decided not to show some of the more offensive shots of the tower on fire and the people jumping out of the building. I think they have already decided not to use those. So we'll see.


Newshost:

Do you think that some of the coverage in the domestic papers has been a little over-the-top? For example, talking about Osama Bin Laden wanting to "nuke" Britain?


Lisa O'Carroll:

I think some of it has been farcical. For instance today in the Mirror and the Mail both of them have told the public there is no reason to panic. But yet, we printed a two-page cut-out and keep guide to all the deadly disease that might be exploded upon the nation - but don't panic.


Newshost:

Nathan Thomas, I was talking to a couple of people in America the other day who said that there was suddenly a lot more foreign news coverage in the American media and there was a desperate desire on the part of many Americans to know what was going on and a feeling that the media in the past had not been doing its job in telling them about foreign news. As a foreign news specialist for ABC, do you recognise that - do you think that's true?


Nathan Thomas:

Yes, to a great extent. Over the past 10 - 15 years, there has, in the United States, been a great reduction in the amount of foreign news done and Americans now are beginning to remember - oh yes, there is a world out there and what happens there does impact on us, as they are seeing very much right now. But yes, it has been a spiral over the past 10 - 15 years. I don't know which came first - people not being interested and so the media does less and then they are less interested because they don't hear as much and they know less and they're less interested so we do less. But it's been spiralling down for a long time, I think, and this, certainly, at least for a time, is going to ratchet it up and there is going to be a lot more foreign coverage.


Newshost:

Let's get onto some of the e-mail questions now. Abul, David in the USA asks: Do you think there is a state of denial in many Islamic countries that Muslim terrorists could have co-ordinated such an attack?


Abul Tahir:

It's a very difficult question. I couldn't answer that. But a lot of Muslims in this country are actually saying - they treat it as a military campaign almost, it was done with a kind of military precision - they are saying that for one man to co-ordinate this is virtually impossible. They are saying that some states, perhaps rogue states - like Iraq for instance - may have a hand in sponsoring and co-ordinating this huge campaign. So yes, there is a sense of denial in the Muslim community here that, yes, it seems to be beyond one man to do this and perhaps Western leaders have made Osama Bin Laden the bogeyman for this whole attack.


Newshost:

Tehseen Khan Barakzai in Bradford, England asks: I think the way in which the media is reporting the attacks, is causing much hatred in the Muslim world. Although the leaders of the Islamic nations may be with you, the people of those countries are waiting to erupt in anger at the U.S and its policies. Especially in Israel where they are getting away with state sponsored terrorism. The Muslims will never rest until these atrocities stop.

Do you think that question reflects a widespread view?


Abul Tahir:

It is. In Pakistan, for instance, you can see the government is actually supporting a US campaign against terrorists and against the Taleban. Whereas there seems to be communities of people who are opposed to any kind of military action by the US against the Taleban and again Afghanistan.

Similarly, in Palestine we saw Yasser Arafat condemning the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while his people were celebrating. So there is this discrepancy between what a lot of the Muslim people in Muslim countries feel in their attitude towards America and what government officials and government leaders are actually saying. So that it is true.

Another thing we should mention is that a lot of Muslims have been quite offended that right from day one, Osama Bin Laden has been assumed as the prime suspect without any evidence being presented by the US authorities. This has led many Muslims to go on about this possible Western conspiracy against the Islamic world and against Muslims.


Newshost:

Nathan, to pick up on what we were talking about a minute ago. Tariq Fancy in San Francisco, USA asks: Why is it that the US Media has been so needy in its analysis of what has happened? There has been a lot about whose done what, how it was done - security lapses etc. - but never really why it was done. The explanation thus far seems to be some sort of a nebulous concept of an Islamic rejection of Western/US freedoms, liberties, ways of thought, way of life, etc. Have Americans not realized that addressing the question of why it happened is the only realistic way to prevent it from happening again?


Nathan Thomas:

He is right in what he says, the problem is of course it's very hard to figure out why it was done until you know who did it. If it was Osama Bin Laden, then there are certain reasons that it would be. If it were someone entirely different then the reasons behind it could be something entirely different. So yes, the speculation and the reporting goes more to what you can deal with, which is what happened and what caused the security lapses and so on. But really why until you find out and until everyone is agreed or someone claims responsibility, it is very difficult to talk about why it happened other than speculation.


Newshost:

But has he put his finger on a characteristic of the American media which is that it separates very well reporting from comment but in the process you get an awful lot of facts in the reporting bit? You don't always have a lot of context and explanation of what's going on. Reading American newspaper in particular you are often a little baffled as to what the significance of an event might be.


Nathan Thomas:

Yes, I guess the American press - and just reading here in Britain - it is different. Here it is, as you say, much more taking the reader by the hand and walking them through the story - the emotion and everything else, whereas it will be more separate in the United States. I guess it is just really two different styles of journalism. In the United States yes, you'll get the facts but .


Newshost:

Does that short-change readers and viewers though in the States?


Nathan Thomas:

I suppose that's possible although there are so many outlets in the United States giving opinion. I think it is all there - you may not get it all in one neat little package.


Newshost:

Lisa, a question from Mike in London, who asks: Do you think that the origins of the terrorist problem have been adequately addressed and addressed without bias by Western media?


Lisa O'Carroll:

I think we've been discussing the origins and roots of this for the last two weeks relentlessly. Every time I switch on the TV and every newspaper is full of it. It is patently obvious - we don't know and we are trying to find out why.


Newshost:

Yes, but perhaps the implication would be that there is a bias - maybe an unconscious bias, as Abul talks about.


Lisa O'Carroll:

Maybe what he is touching on is the lack of interest in the story of the Palestinians and the Muslim community worldwide and the problems they face.

It was similar I think probably in Ireland, there was a feeling that the situation in Northern Ireland was never taken seriously until there was the unfortunate violence and fatalities.


Newshost:

T Samra, Dublin asks: I admired the Sun Newspaper article which explained in layman's terms that Islam was not an evil religion. This kind of journalism leads to a better understanding between peoples. Are we not entitled to hear all the issues?


Lisa O'Carroll:

Of course we are yes. Any move - to come back to your earlier question - about the Government trying to control the media must be resisted and probably will be resisted by newspapers - it is just television, I think, is the path of least resistance of attempts to control. I would really like to see television resisting any government attempts to control information of what's going on in the military arena when it does, and if it does, happen.


Newshost:

Abul, you wanted to come in there.


Abul Tahir:

I think had the Sun newspaper took this decision voluntarily and not at the advice of the Government, that would have been a far better day for the British media at large.


Lisa O'Carroll:

I sure it didn't take it on the advice - I am sure it was urged. The editor can make his own mind up can't he?


Abul Tahir:

I am sure he can but the friend who told me about this, he did use that term, advised. I don't think the Sun was coerced - I don't think anyone can coerce the Sun. But of course the Sun newspaper and New Labour do have this special relationship.


Newshost:

Interesting relationship.


Abul Tahir:

Interesting - yes.


Newshost:

Imran Khan, London asks: The over-exposure of the terrorist attacks, is causing hatred among communities. Surely there has to be a limit to what exposure is needed. The atrocities in the Muslim world are never given as much exposure (e.g., Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, to name a few)?


Abul Tahir:

Of course, that's expected. The media - whatever we see on television or read in newspapers - all this belongs to a context and of course we are looking at everything from a Western context.

I don't this particular tragic event has been over-exposed - the seriousness of it - it is threatening world peace. It has quite rightly changed the world. So I think it deserves - at least in the Western world - the exposure that it has got.


Newshost:

But do you think that we have taken for granted too much some of the atrocities that have taken place in the Middle East?


Abul Tahir:

I think we have. We have been ignoring perhaps the trade sanctions in Iraq that have killed so many thousands of people. And of course the Palestinian issue is always in the media but perhaps not analysed as say this event is. Also the Kashmir issue is seldom mentioned although soldiers and civilians in Kashmir are getting killed every day.

So these are international hot spots where military action could destabilise and are destabilising regions of the world but they are seldom mentioned or when they are they are put very tersely.

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