MEDIA ACCESS A CHALLENGE IN U.K. ATTACKS Story by: By Eric Pfanner International Herald Tribune MONDAY, JULY 11, 2005 Photos from the Web and Video recorded by Techniguy. Click the thumbnails for full size image.
Terrorists Hit London Bus Too
For television journalists, usually the first on the scene when news breaks, the London bombings were a particularly confounding story to cover. Many of the top British news crews were in Singapore, following up on the International Olympic Committee's decision the day before to award the 2012 Games to London. Many of their colleagues in the British and international press were in Gleneagles, Scotland, covering the G-8.
Top Of Bus Blown Off
When the bombs went off, the story seemed to unfold in slow motion - a particularly frustrating pace for TV journalists accustomed to documenting news as it happens.
Blast Damages More Than Just Bus
Many of the first - and in some cases the only - images of the attacks came from bombing victims and other travelers who were stranded in subway tunnels, using the cameras on mobile phones to create impromptu documentaries that were posted on Web sites or sent to news organizations.
Assessing The Damage
"What we saw here - people walking down the Tube tunnel taking mobile phone pictures - may be a new kind of social phenomenon," said Ben Wood, an analyst at Gartner, a technology consultants. "The media had hardly any access at all."
Another View of the Carnage
In sharp contrast to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, the Underground bombings occurred out of sight of most Londoners; only the bombing on a bus, nearly an hour later, happened at surface level.
The Only View of Train Damage Available
Thickening the fog around the early reporting of the story was the initial announcement by Transport for London officials that the blasts had come from "power surges" rather than bombings. The authorities have not explained whether that was simply an error stemming from confusion or a deliberate effort to head off panic.
Terrorist - Does This Guy Look British?
The Underground bombs went off within seconds of one another at 8:50 a.m., officials now say, not over 26 minutes as initially reported. At 9:15 a.m., The Press Association reported that emergency services had been called to Liverpool Street Station. One minute later, Sky News ran a similar headline across the bottom of the screen. Sky News, along with its two main British rivals in the continuous news business, BBC News 24 and ITV News, soon provided reports on the air.
Maybe He Looks More British In This Shot
"It wasn't crystal clear initially what was going on," said John Ryley, executive editor of Sky News, part of the satellite television company British Sky Broadcasting. "Given the Olympic decision, the G-8 and the world we now live in, it was my hunch it was a terrorist attack."
Proud Brits Stand Tall
But details of what was going on underground - and, later, at surface level - were slow to emerge. Talk radio was buzzing with reports of six or even seven bombings, with as many as three buses, not just one, being blown up. Some of the confusion may have occurred because travelers stranded between two Underground stations in some cases were evacuated from both stations, prompting erroneous reports of multiple incidents.
Others Just Sit With Conflicting Ideology
On BBC London, a talk radio station that quickly focused its attention on the bombings while other stations were still playing music, the host, Jon Gaunt, frequently urged callers not to speculate wildly but to report only what they had seen. A woman who had traveled into London by taxi with her 15-month-old daughter gave an early eyewitness account of the bus explosion.
Could This Be Part of the Problem?
BBC News, too, played it safe, waiting until 11:34 a.m. to run a report discussing the possibility that the bombings might be the work of Al Qaeda. Roger Mosey, the head of BBC television news, said the measured tone of the BBC's coverage was intended "to give people a sense of scale."
As Pacifists Protest, Terrorists Enter Train Station
"It was a terrible, dreadful event, but it wasn't like 9/11, where you had this sense of all of America under attack," he said. "You want to report fairly what is happening, and the fact is that much of London was functioning normally."
Passengers Forced to Complete Journey On Foot
That did not stop Fox News in the United States from broadcasting from central London with a grainy image quality and a reporter dressed in a flak jacket, giving the appearance of a war zone.
Passengers Escape Through Hole
British tabloid newspapers also showed less reserve than their television counterparts. The Sun, the mass-circulation tabloid daily, was reporting still-unsubstantiated rumors on Friday that the bus explosion had been the work of a suicide bomber.
Meanwhile, Back on the Street
By 10:23 a.m. on Thursday, even as the details remained murky, the BBC had decided that the story was significant enough to warrant breaking into its regular programming on BBC1, the broadcaster's flagship channel, with full-time news reports.
Some Motorists Were Lucky, Some Were Not
Similarly, ITV News and Sky News coverage was picked up on the main ITV and Sky channels. By midday, Fox, which, like BSkyB, is an affiliate of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., was also picking up Sky News for early morning coverage in the United States.
The Bus Didn't Survive the Blast
Some of the caution of the British television news services is explained by stricter content regulations than U.S. news organizations face. Broadcasters are required to adhere to guidelines on fairness, balance and privacy rights, for example.
Medics Collect the Dead and Injured
But when Prime Minister Tony Blair, at midday London time on Thursday, announced that the bombings were terrorist acts, the TV channels dropped their reluctance to use that terminology.
Should We Call Him a Terrorist or A Bomber?
Still, the first official confirmation that there had been deaths in the bombings did not come until after 3 p.m. Though some British reporters have complained at news conferences with police officials that the authorities have been slow to share details about the bombings and the investigation into them, officials of ITV, the BBC and Sky said the government had not asked them to withhold any information.