Are you old enough to remember when every day for years and years we would switch on the radio or TV and be swamped with news of conflict in the Balkans? Serbs, Croats and Bosnians – it was difficult to avoid listening to the intractable problems of peoples you’d barely heard of before. In reality none of it was going to influence our day-to-day life in our home country very much at all.
It was perhaps strange the broadcasters didn’t include a regular half hour slot for getting all the Balkan news out of the way in one hit. That way, people for whom it was very important would know when to tune in and the rest of us would know when to withdraw tactfully from TV or radio earshot – get dressed for work, brush one’s teeth, etc.
It felt like flavour of the decade problem diversion in the 1990s was the Balkans. On its heels through the ‘noughties’ to the present day, it’s been wall to wall terrorism, radical Islam and a whole family of race-related issues. Terrorism may kill an average of about ten people a year in this country. Our roads system permits ten deaths a day (and a lot more life-changing injuries). The Citizens Report website provides depressing detail of the 600-700 murders per year that occur in the UK. Thousands of women are diagnosed with breast cancer every month. Do we know where our priorities lie? This site will occasionally mention 5.5.5 Syndrome. A sure symptom of the condition is the capacity of a modern, technological democracy to pour resources, effort and attention into a threat to its welfare that’s been pumped up out of all proportion.
Nowadays, we cannot turn on the radio and television and hope to escape the constant drumbeat of story after report after revelation from the long-running soap ‘Terrorism Family’. So some of us might be here again, wishing there was a special slot at a fixed time so that those who want their new dose of daily alarm can tune in. The rest of us could plan to avoid the constant harping on about issues that are barely ever going to influence our daily lives in a real sense.
This is not to downgrade the terrible impact of terrorist strikes when they do happen. They are low-frequency, high-impact events. In terms of their effects and the misery they cause, they are in the same family of issues as fatal aeroplane or train crashes, motorway pile-ups, gas explosions, ferry disasters, floods. It would be bizarre if there weren’t a sharp attention spike in the aftermath of life-changing tragedies like these. Equally, spread over time, you would expect any or all of these issues to be the subject of initiatives and debates. After all, we presumably would like to eradicate the lot of them. For example, we sometimes get alarming reports on how aviation procedures are being shortcut or how developers are still being allowed to build on flood plains. But we don’t occupy every other media minute every day mulling over and fretting about them as we do with ‘Terrorism Family’.
The word ‘factoid’ was coined by the author Norman Mailer and means a thing that is repeated in the media as if it were true even though it may not be. It seems like in this country there always has to be ‘a super-package of fear’ that comes under that definition. It’s a narrative that hits the headlines day after day as if it speaks volumes about things that will imperil your daily life when in fact they will not.
The likelihood of being killed in an act of terrorism in the UK is on a par with being killed by lightning – about five per year. A reckless driver or an emotionally disturbed relative or family acquaintance is far more likely to kill you than a terrorist. Here is an item by Richard Jackson that provides an interesting angle on ten things you might not expect to be more of a threat to you than terrorism. Rather worryingly, one of them appears to be ‘yourself’. And, yes, we do get proportionate coverage in the media of the distressing problem of suicide.
On 5.5.5 & Counting, we are worried that the issue of fair voting hardly ever gets coverage in the mainstream media. Of course, this is partly because it doesn’t have life-or-death implications. But there can be few issues with such far reaching effects on your day to day life. In our section Media and FPTP, we say why the broadcasters do not want reform of this country’s unfair general election system.