In the climate of 11 September the authorities called upon the media to show restraint and caution in their handling of information. In Northern Ireland the first journalist since the start of the troubles was murdered, the responsibility for which was claimed by Loyalist militias.

The September 11th attacks in the United States and the announcement of the American and British military preparations were followed by a series of warnings to the media, most often issued by the office of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. On 26 September the government called on the media to show restraint in their coverage of military preparations, invoking national security reasons and the need not to fuel the start of national panic. The BBC noted that the media are the best placed for judging the opportunity and means for broadcasting information and made public the internal directives worked out for its journalists in covering the conflict. On 9 November the Prime Minister's spokesman called on the media to "distinguish between the right and the wrong" in covering the war in Afghanistan by asking them not to put "the tissue of lies" by the Taliban on "equal footing" with declarations by the coalition.

A journalist killed

On 28 September 2001 Martin O'Hagan, investigative journalist for the Northern Irish weekly. Sunday World, was gunned down in front of his home in Lurgan, County Armagh, some forty kilometres south-west of Belfast. His murderer shot at the journalist several times from a car parked in the street where the journalist lived with his family. Mr. O'Hagan died a few minutes later. His wife was not hit. A little while later the police found the shell of a burnt out car that seems to have be used by the murderers. The next day a Loyalist military group claimed responsibility with a telephone call to the BBC. "The Defenders of the Red Hand", a group formed from two Loyalist extremist organisations, the Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist volunteer force, accused the journalist of having committed "crimes against the Loyalist people". Martin O'Hagan had worked for several years for the Catholic weekly, Sunday World, and was an expert in investigating armed Northern Irish groups and the drugs Mafia. He had received numerous threats for his coverage of the confrontations between the Catholic and Protestant militias and the security forces. The journalist had also testified in a libel court case against the allegations of collusion between the police and Loyalist paramilitary groups in the 1980s. In the early nineties Martin O'Hagan had already been the victim of a murder attempt attributed to the Loyalist terrorist Billy Wright. This murder, the first of a journalist in Northern Ireland since the start of the troubles, occurred as the confrontations resumed in the previous days between the police and Loyalist activists in the north of Belfast.

New information on a journalist killed before 2001

On 2 July 2001 a London court sentenced Barry Michael George to life imprisonment for the murder of journalist Jill Dando. On 26 April 1999 Jill Dando, a popular journalist for the BBC, was killed when shot once in the head in front of her home in London. For the previous five years Jill Dando had presented "Crimewatch" a show that investigated unsolved crimes (cf. Annual Report 2000). The accused, Barry M. George, had a veritable obsession for personalities in the news, including the BBC journalist. He pleaded not guilty at the opening of his trial on 26 February. The verdict was made despite the fact that he never confessed, and he has lodged an appeal.

Pressure and obstruction

In the night of 3 to 4 March 2001 a car exploded in front of the offices of the BBC in London. The bomb, placed in a taxi parked in front of the main entrance to one of the BBC's principal buildings, was intended to "maim and kill" according to the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad. The police attributed the bombing to the Real-IRA, a dissident group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland. A phone call was received at about 11:20 p.m. warning of the imminent explosion, allowing the buildings to be evacuated. Nonetheless the explosion slightly wounded an employee and caused extensive material damage.

On 29 July Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, announced the reinforcement of the powers of intervention by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) after sharp public and political reaction to the broadcast on Channel 4 of a satire about media treatment of paedophilia cases in the series "Brass Eye". On the same day several of the tabloid papers called for all those responsible for the broadcast to be sacked. Channel 4's director general, Michael Jackson, defended the satire, saying that its goal was "point up the inconsistencies and sensationalism with which the British media treat paedophilia crimes". Several other members of the government, including Home Secretary David Blunkett and Secretary of State for the Protection of Children, Beverley Hughes, objected to the programme.


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