Why 9/11 will be etched in my mind forever


My parents were due to make an international flight as I spent September 11th 2001 on a day off work as a broadcast journalist and, as I listened to BBC Radio 5 Live in my car out in the middle of the countryside, I heard the first terrible news that there'd been an attack on the Twin Towers in New York.

My first thoughts were with the Americans -- in solidarity, in union -- I was in disbelief -- the events unfolding on my radio set seemed impossible to comprehend.  Then panic set in -- what about my mum and dad?  They were actually in the air on 9/11 and there were radio reports that there could be a similar plot to bring down planes into Canary Wharf's Canada Tower, in the heart of London's docklands.

I listened in horror on the radio and got back home as quickly as I could, where I turned to the BBC News Channel, Sky News and CNN.

My parents made it home safely, if somewhat scared -- they were also on the Paris Metro (underground) the day of the bombings and at Kings Cross in London around the time of the big escalator fire.  I hope they have many more lives yet.   3,000 people were not so lucky.

For the first annivesary of 9/11 I was IN the USA!

World Trade Centre 9/11For the first annivesary of 9/11 I was actually visiting the USA, as I have relatives there.

It struck me how much America and the world had changed.   But security at the airport hadn't changed much back then -- as a white family from England visiting white relatives in America we were beyond suspicion -- I even brought back with me several newspapers about 9/11, a CNN DVD on 9/11 and Time and Newsweek special editions of their magazines to mark the first anniversary.  I had tapes recorded off the local news -- both TV and radio -- of coverage.  I was a hard news journalist, after all, and this was the biggest story of my life to date.

Customs did not even x-ray the portable 12V car fridge I bought at the Discovery store and brought back with me on the plane - there were no liquids restrictions like we have today and the passage of British visitors to America through immigration was smooth and uncomplicated.  It seemed bizarre -- anyone who's watched "Nothing to Declare" (from Australia and New Zealand) or its UK version should know just how tight security is abroad.

Back home, the BBC went into lockdown

Once I returned home, it was back to my job as a broadcast journalist, and at the BBC the coporation went into lockdown.   There was a secret page on Ceefax, still in existence today in the few remaining analogue TV areas of the country, later set up on Gateway, the BBC intranet, and on the public BBC website, and a freephone and internal number to ring in case of emergencies.  

Employees were put on high alert and when I was issued with my first BBC ID badge it had a chip in it which allowed entry to only BBC buildings I was authorised to enter (I couldn't enter my BBC local radio station with it when working for BBC Radio 4 for example, unless security let me in) and we were all informed about the risks of terrorism when working for a state broadcaster of an American ally during the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Dignified, measured responses 10 years on

The best coverage of 9/11's 10th annivesary has been, I feel, from Sky News.  I was initially very concerned about interviewing people live on this painful day, who had lost loved ones, on TV, as the pain is still so very raw for many of them.  But Sky found a dignified lady who had not only dealt with her grief but gone on to make great achievements to remember her son, including collaborating with the official Ground Zero museum, and she was pacifist and selfless and her response was measured and calm.

That can't be said for George W Bush or Tony Blair, who led us into long drawn out, and in some cases, illegal, wars in which many, many lives have been lost in "the war on terror" including British and American service personnel and Afghan/Iraqi civilians.   Barely a night goes by when the BBC News at 10 doesn't report the death of yet another soldier in Afghanistan.

I still feel to this day that my attempt to bring balanced coverage of the war on terror caused the BBC to end my career -- I cannot say that it was influenced by the state or spooks, but I can certainly suspect it -- if you saw the BBC drama "The Hour" then that wasn't entirely fictitious.   Those were the rules of engagement in BBC newsrooms those days.

"The Wartime Broadcasting Service" (WBS)

Not a lot of people outside government and the BBC know this but, in the event we should ever, in the UK, be invaded again, the BBC's entire broadcast output will be ceased and a number of specially selected staff will take over and run the WBS. 

If you have "pacifist or defeatist or leftwing" views, then according to the book "Blacklist" by Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton Taylor, historically you were not likely to employed by the BBC -- and this is a major reason given my historians for this.

It's also a fact that any government minister can walk into any BBC studio or newsroom and ask BBC employee or freelance to leave the premises at any time, without giving any reason.  I've never known it happen, and it's designed for wartime broadcasting.

The Fourth Estate

It's therefore a relief that newspapers such as The Guardian and broadcasters such as Channel 4 News have a much wider perspective on British foreign and defence policy, official secrecy and world news.  I no longer get my news from the BBC and I would strongly urge anyone who does to additionally source news from a third party as well, at least once a day. 

You will find you have not been made aware of certain stories on certain occasions which the rest of the media are reporting.  I always complain to London.  Occasionally they reply.  I never get a reason out of them.  There is a person called Controller Editorial Policy who makes these decisions.  I ask to be put in contact.  I still have the internal phone number somewhere on a back up and the direct line -- but obviously I can't call any more as I don't work for the BBC any longer.

My heart goes out to Americans today

So it may be obvious to you that I have profound misgivings about The War on Terror and the way America and its biggest ally Britain control the media.  But it should also be obvious to you that, as someone who's been to America three times, has relatives there, has a cousin who was hit by an IED in the US Army in Afghanistan who nearly died and is still recovering, both physically and mentally, that I am totally in solidarity with the American people and today my heart goes out to each and every family and friend and colleague who lost someone on 9/11 2001.

This was a truly tragic day and touched the lives of people all round the world.  The BBC's Songs of Praise tonight, I think I am right in saying, for the first time ever, featured other religions besides Christianity.   I thought it was insightful and optimistic for the future, and that is what we must be as primary allies to the great country, America. We must not lose sight of the important of multiculturalism in our society.  Muslims are not terrorists in the making -- only extremists are.

God Bless America.  And all those who tragically lost their lives on 9/11. And many this 10th anniversary signal new hope in the fight against terrorism by tackling extremism at grassroots level.  The world cannot afford to sit back and watch another tragedy of that magnitude happen ever again.


Beautiful summary, God bless you and all effected x

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