ONE SECOND PER VICTIM; Slaughter In Iraq And ITN’s Descent Into Absurdity

And The Main Headline This Lunchtime

It is easy to overestimate the role of media distortion of facts in the pacification and control of modern society. In reality the imposition of absurdity and mindless distraction is at least as important. If we can be persuaded to ignore serious issues, then it hardly matters if facts relating to those issues are distorted beyond recognition or blanked. Thus, ITN’s headline on January 29, 1999:

“And the main headline this lunchtime: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles have appeared as a couple, in public, for the first time.” (ITV 1 O’Clock News, 29.1.99)

The previous year, ten minutes, or thirty-three per cent, of the BBC’s 6 O’ Clock News on January 26, 1998, had dealt with the Queen Mother’s fall and fracture of her left hip.

These examples might seem merely comical, but in truth real issues and real suffering are buried by nonsense of this kind.

On ITN’s main lunchtime news today, anchor Andrea Catherwood reported that 22 people had been killed in Iraq in two attacks on a mosque and a bakery. The report lasted exactly 22 seconds – one second per victim. Only the basic facts were given and the carnage was not included in a summary of the day’s major stories at the end of the programme.

The 22 seconds were followed by a 5 minute 30 second report on the planned wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker-Bowles – a story also covered ad nauseam yesterday. This included some six interviews, a straw poll of public opinion, and a discussion of constitutional issues surrounding the marriage.

ITN had no time to mention that three children had been killed in the attack on the Iraqi mosque alongside 40 people wounded. It had no time to mention that no less that 50 Iraqi security personnel have been killed in three massive suicide bombings this week in the wake of Iraq’s fraudulent elections on January 30. You would not know from media reporting that this has been one of the country’s worst weeks for violence. A police officer in Salman Pak, a town fast becoming a focus of the conflict, said:

“We have never seen such fighting.” (‘Eleven dead in Iraq bakery attack,’ Jenny Booth, Times Online, February 11, 2005)

This follows the killing of 10 Iraqi police during a fierce gun battle late on Thursday. Insurgents ambushed a police convoy searching for those responsible for an earlier car bomb attack – shooting went on for two hours. US attack helicopters were sent to the scene and opened fired to dislodge the insurgents.

Who is it that is deciding that the British public should be subjected to current levels of absurdity and indifference to suffering in TV news performance? Who are the people who determine what we are and are not told about the world? What are their credentials for such an important task? What are their backgrounds, connections, vested interests, likely biases?

The truth is that almost no one has the remotest clue – ITN is a massive, unaccountable business that responds far less, and far less honestly, even than the BBC to public complaints. How ironic it is that we so certainly believe we live in a free society when we have almost zero understanding of, and zero control over, the means of mass communication.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to the following journalists. Ask them how they can justify spending 22 seconds on the deaths of 22 Iraqis before spending 5 minutes 30 seconds on a royal wedding:

ITN Programme Editor for today’s lunchtime programme, Patrick Hubbard
Email: [email protected]

ITN Director of today’s programme, Munro Forbes
Email: [email protected]

Andrea Catherwood
Email: [email protected]

David Mannion, Head of ITN
Email: [email protected]