7/7: The Never-Ending Story
If the BBC had a fictional film or drama on the shelf about terrorists putting bombs on London tubes and buses you can be pretty sure that they would feel it was inappropriate to broadcast it so soon after 7th July.
Yet last night they broadcast an hour long documentary about 'the day the bombs came', with 'previously unseen footage' and 'reconstructions'.
Ah, but this was a serious documentary. Well yes, but everything that appears on television is entertainment, regardless of how it is described. That includes Horizon on genetics and a Newsnight report on the public sector borrowing requirement. That is simply the nature of the medium. Why else would The Daily Politics this week have a huge graphic of some animated false teeth biting chunks out of Government legislation?
And last night's programme told you little that you didn't know already, unless you'd been on holiday in another universe.
One amusing detail for anyone who has been following the increasingly vicious fight between Sky News and BBC News 24 was that the programme included clips from Sky News coverage of the breaking story. Not only that, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said 'We switched on Sky, like everyone does at such times'.
He was right, of course, although in my naiveté I thought that Sir Ian Blair might have had some 'inside information' at such a time and not be watching the speculation on Sky like the rest of us. To be fair, he did say he was able to have shots from traffic cameras piped into his office and that these indicated that something serious was happening because there were a lot of police cars outside Liverpool Street Station.
Sir Ian Blair's endorsement of Sky may have been revenge for his disgraceful treatment on the day by a BBC News Wallah (that's a clue to the newsreader involved). Sir Ian went on each of the news channels to make a short public announcement. The BBC chap saw this as an opportunity for a Paxmanesque interview and repeatedly pressed Sir Ian on who had carried out the attack. Eventually Sir Ian took his mike off and walked out. It was one of the most crass misjudgements I have ever seen by a presenter.
The one serious point to emerge from this programme was how long it took the authorities to comprehend that there had been a bomb attack. On the day itself, I thought that all the talk about 'power surges' on the Underground was a deliberate ploy to stop people panicking. But it seems this wasn't so. When someone in a tube tunnel radioed in that the train had severe bomb damage, the control room said 'Can you repeat that? Did you say 'bomb damage'?'
It was only the explosion on the bus that dispelled any doubt. As Sir Ian Blair said: 'I knew that when a bus has its roof blown off that's not due to a power surge.' He wasn't a detective all those years for nothing.
What I find odd about this is that the police had been telling us for years that a terrorist attack in London was a certainty. Yet when it happened, bombs seemed to be at the bottom of the list of explanations for three simultaneous incidents on the Underground, after power surges, derailments and crashes.
The other thing that concerns me is how much encouragement our reaction to even quite minor attacks must give to potential terrorists. Extended news coverage on the day is perfectly justified. But then there's all the ongoing coverage and the Remembrance Service with the Royal Family and leading politicians. There's also the absurd claim that this was 'our 9/11' when it was clearly in no way comparable.
This is not to belittle the awfulness of what happened in London. But if these relatively amateur home-grown terrorists can achieve such an impact with a level of casualties that is happening almost daily in Iraq, we are surely granting them the very status and importance that they crave.