South of the River – Terrorism and the press


Compass-SouthThe appalling events in Woolwich this week brought back memories of the 7/7 London bombings and fallout in Beeston.

I have written before about how the world’s press descended on Beeston, putting their need for a story before the needs and feelings of the community.   I don’t want to go over that ground again, but an interesting debate sprang up on the blog yesterday about the use of images from Woolwich.

We took down an image that you will have seen, it’s been in every newspaper and television news broadcast. We took it down because we were advised that we were in breach of copyright. The debate, however, was about whether showing an image of the event played into the hands of terrorists, by publicising their cause.

This was Margaret Thatcher’s (her again) reasoning for banning the voices of Sinn Fein politicians in the 1980s. She was denying the IRA the “oxygen of publicity”. Well that didn’t work.

It raised two issues. The first was press freedom and the second was how to bring peace to the north of Ireland. The notion of press freedom has been tarnished since the Murdoch press and the Tory Party wheeled it out to derail the Leveson proposals. It’s not about tapping phones or saying whatever you want about someone. At its best it’s about “talking truth to power”, it’s part of the democratic process.

Terrorism is never a solution, but it is usually a response to a problem.

The IRA fought for a united Ireland, independent of Britain. They got support because Catholics were being systematically discriminated against in jobs and housing. The Taliban and Al Qaida, as I understand it, want a Caliphate operating their version of Sharia law across the world. They get support in Afghanistan because there is an army of occupation in the country: first it was the Russians, now it’s us. They get wider support because of the treatment of the Palestinian people.

Fighting these organisations with military power tends to build their support. Events like Bloody Sunday or drone strikes on wedding parties act like recruiting sergeants.

Yesterday the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland unveiled plans to increase integration and take down the “peace” walls that separate communities in Derry/Londonderry, Belfast and elsewhere. We are fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement and the proposals are for this to happen over a further ten years. That’s a long time to sort out a problem, but it isn’t it better than bombs in the night and troops on the streets?

The press – and I do mean everyone from Rupert Murdoch to South Leeds Life – have a part to play in these issues. We are part of the public discourse, the public debate. We (and here I can’t speak for Mr Murdoch) aim to inform our readers about issues that affect our neighbourhoods. We try to report the facts, but also reflect the debate that goes on around the interpretation of those facts.

It is a fact that a round of golf at Middleton Park is subsidised by the Council to the tune of £10. But is that because there are too many golf courses, or because their marketing isn’t up to scratch? Lets debate the issues and help the Council come to the right decision.

Jeremy MortonCan I finish by clearing up one fact as a public service? It was the EDL who were trying to stir up racial unrest after the Woolwich attack, not EDF. EDF are an energy company, blame them for high fuel prices, but not for racial hatred.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

11 Replies to “South of the River – Terrorism and the press”

  1. Great blog, Jeremy.

    It seems to me that censorship in terms of preventing people saying things that some people find unpalatable is nearly always mistaken. Of course it makes sense to prevent people from inciting racial hatred and exploiting vulnerable people (e.g children) but the lines need to be drawn quite carefully. Preventing Gerry Adams being heard in the 1980s and having an actor read what he had to say was a farce and made me want to listen even more carefully!

    South Leeds Life is committed to being accurate and truthful but, of course, those contributing are subject to their own prejudices. Significant parts of the press are governed by agendas where accuracy and truthfulness are perhaps of less significance. Some of the current debates about the rights and wrongs of Britain’s membership of the European Union, the merits of Scotland becoming independent or legislation to permit homosexual marriage seem governed much more by prejudice, exaggeration and scare-mongering than anything else. The way to challenge such views is to open them to debate, challenge half truths and prejudice not prevent them being aired.

    On a separate but related point I always get a bit queasy when it is said that what people do in their private lives is their own business and nothing to do with their public role. For example, if a politician is prepared to lie and cheat on his/her spouse is it not possible they may be likely to do the same on other issues??

    Finally I’m not sure it is a fact that every round of golf is subsidised by the Council to the tune of £10! It does depend on how you calculate the costs and particularly what proportion of overheads are charged to the golf course it also implies that if golf is stopped the Council will save £10 per round which is unlikely to be true… What’s my point? Well, things need to be aired and debated in as open a way as possible and that’s one of the things South Leeds Life, in its own small way, in its own part of Leeds is trying to do.

  2. Jeremy

    Don’t you think that by seeing this act of murder as a possible ‘response to a problem’ – the plight of the Palestinians and Afghan War – you risk elevating the actions of these two losers? Let’s be clear, this is not an act of terrorism, it’s a knife crime, a murder best understood as the kind of nihilistic and narcissistic lashing-out-at-the-world along the lines of 7/7, Anders Breivik, the Boston Marathon bombing and the multiple shootings we’ve seen in schools and cinemas.

    These were all acts committed by disparate and pathetic individuals, unconnected to any greater movement or cause. Although no doubt encouraged by today’s narcissistic culture (evident in the calls to be filmed by the two Woolwich losers), contemporary ant-modernity sentiment, and an over-reaction by the authorities which guarantees that even stabbing on the streets of London is treat like a threat to civilisation.

    You also seem to criticise the Tory Party (or should that be the Evil Tory Party) for wheeling out the Murdoch Press (or should that the Evil Murdoch Press), which not only sounds like pseudo-lefty bollocks, but actually endorses the Tory Party’s setting up of Leveson in the first place as an attack upon press freedom.


    1. Hi Paul, thanks for your comments.

      I don’t think I’m elevating the actions of these two and I’m certainly not defending their actions which were brutal, stupid and counter-productive. It may not have been terrifying and it wasn’t noble, but let’s be clear it was a act of terror. They did it because they thought it might make the Britain leave Afghanistan, given we’re already leaving I’m not sure hoe that was going to work or deter people joining the armed forces – difficult in a recession or to kick off some sort of chaos that would result in the country being run differently. Did they have a chance of achieving any of these things? No, but it’s a more plausible explanation to me than wanting celebrity.

      Now, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think the Tory Party are evil. I don’t think anyone’s evil, I don’t find it a useful concept to explain the world around me. I think the Tory Party is wrong and misguided and the current Tory government is very nasty. The Prime Minister is extremely close to the Murdoch Press. My point was that in order to help Murdoch keep on doing what he does, Cameron used the argument of protecting press freedom to go back on his promise to enact whatever Leveson came up with.

      By the way, my (Australian) mother warned me about Murdoch when he arrived here at the end of sixties, he already had form then. I think he’s lived up to those warnings.


      1. Jeremy

        I don’t think we should take it at face value what these two idiots say they murdered someone for. Just because they say it was for some noble reason doesn’t make it so. There act of murder has nothing to do with Britain’s adventures overseas – which lots of us oppose but don’t commit acts of murder about.

        It’s ridiculous to suggest that Cameron has prevaricated over implementing Leveson to help Murdoch. And if only they did believe in press freedom they’d reject Leveson entirely.


  3. Right storm in a teacup this has become, ultimately my original advice on the photo was born of thinking should children coming to this site see a photo of a murdered man, would he or his family and friends want the world to see him like that and does it give the oxygen of publicity to the murderers that they so craved out of the incident? The media cares little for dignity and would sell its grandmother for sensationalism, its just nice to see this blog rising above that.

  4. I don’t think Jeremy was suggesting that killing someone as an act of terrorism was in any way ‘noble’ but that that might be the reason why the act was committed – it doesn’t make it morally any better at all but might help provide some understanding.

    I’m not sure that Cameron has not implemented the conclusions of the Leveson out of deference to Murdoch although both this government and the last one were far too close to him. I think it’s more likely that he didn’t want to pick (another) fight with his back benchers. I believe I’m right that Cameron said he would implement the conclusions before the report was published which was a bit naive.

    Press freedom is a complicated issue but what is undoubtedly true at the moment is that ‘ordinary people’ (as opposed to media stars etc) who have their privacy infringed or are libelled etc face a very unequal fight in getting any redress.

    The ‘oxygen of publicity’ is a difficult one… All news is published because someone has decided it’s newsworthy. In the case of the news we’re talking about here it seem to me right that it has been widely reported together with the terrorists’ account surely that gives people the opportunity to form their own judgement about whether the act was justified? Thankfully, most people will say it wasn’t and have the opportunity to say so.

    1. Steve

      I clearly wasn’t suggesting that Jeremy thought the Woolwich knifing was a noble act, I was implying the murderers thought it was – as evidence by their diatribe to the cameras. However, by implying that their pre-meditated, public murder was somehow connected to some ‘problem’ other than in their own sick heads, Jeremy’s article credits them too much with purpose.

      Also, press freedom is far from a complicated issue. As with its basis in freedom of speech, you either have it or you don’t. We don’t have the right of freedom of speech in this country – as evidence by police dawn raids on every idiot who tweets some reactionary comments. Likewise, Leveson itself was unacceptable interference in the press. This was a show-trial of the tabloid media presided over by an unelected judge, cheered on by supposed liberals and leftists who think the likes of Murdoch are a bigger threat than the state and political class.


  5. I like debate that is polite respectful and informed. So I would like to add my thoughts. Terrorism is supposedly (according to the perpetrators) a response. However, as it is a premeditated response it should also be polite respectful and informed. Anything less is more about the individuals than the cause.

  6. Paul

    Who decides the perpetrators were sick? While we may all think they did was evil and totally unacceptable it doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have some legitimate grievance. The IRA committed appalling atrocities but the Catholic minorities in Northern Ireland had some very real grievances

    I think the reason press freedom is complicated is basically two fold. Should people be allowed to publish anything even if incites people to hatred of specific groups or vilifies private individuals with no public role? The second problem is how people remedy defamation, inaccurate reporting or infringement of their privacy – it really is David and Goliath territory.

    Whether the Murdoch press or the state and political class is the worst threat is really difficult!. We all get the opportunity to vote for politicians or not and while I can choose not to buy Murdoch’s products that is pretty ineffective with something
    where the power-base is multi-national.

    I think the Leveson enquiry was partly set up to distract attention from the way politicians had behaved over expenses etc but also because the News of the World’s illegal activities showed that some part of the press were acting way beyond the law.

    Finally, thank goodness judges are not elected but that’s a different subject…

    1. Steve

      For Christ sakes, what ‘legitimate grievance’ could these two idiots have for stabbing a stranger to death on the streets – “Oh! We don’t like what the government’s doing in Afghanistan so we decided to stab someone”? Now you’re in danger of ennobling them.

      And why are you confusing a common, unprovoked, pre-meditated murder by these two idiots, who represented nothing but their own sick and twisted psychologies and confused world-views, with the UK’s war with the IRA? Can you really see no difference between what was essentially and anti-colonial struggle within the borders of the British state that had broad grass-roots support within the nationalist community, and this knifing on the streets?

      Also, as I said, there’s really nothing complicated about a free press – it’s summed-up succinctly in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or the press…”. I think either you genuinely find it complicated because you don’t understand that freedom is defined in relation to the state, not the press. And that you have a diminished view of people who you think are easily incited by the press – inviting state regulation. Or, when you say press freedom is complicated, what you actually mean is you’re uncomfortable with it. If it’s the latter, just be honest and say you don’t believe in the free press.


Comments are closed.