August 1, 2005

U.K.’s top cop blasts ABC over leaked bomb photos

By Mimi Turner

LONDON (Hollywood Reporter) - Britain's top police officer
has lashed out at ABC News' decision to televise leaked
photographs of key evidence as part of its news coverage of the
terror attacks in London.

Wednesday's edition of "World News Tonight" aired photos of
unexploded devices found in the trunk of a car at the Luton
train station north of London. The photos were widely picked up
by newspapers around the world and even aired on the BBC the
next day.

The pictures, which had not been released by Scotland Yard,
showed an X-ray image of a glass bottle packed with explosives
and covered by nails. The network also showed images of the
wreckage of bombed tube trains in the aftermath of the July 7
attacks.

Speaking Thursday at a news conference in London,
Metropolitan Police commissioner Ian Blair said he believed the
pictures had been leaked in the U.S. and warned that the
release of potentially sensitive information could damage the
inquiry.

"I am concerned that some of the photos were supplied in
confidence to some of our colleague agencies in the U.S. and
were published there and subsequently around the world," Blair
said.

British newspapers and television stations had used the
pictures despite Met requests to not do so.

"World News Tonight" executive producer Jon Banner said ABC
News had asked for further information from Scotland Yard
regarding why it didn't want the pictures shown but got no
response. ABC proceeded with the decision to air the footage on
"World News Tonight" after a vigorous process.

"It's something we take great care in. We have a vp of
standards and practices. We talked to law enforcement in London
and here in the states. We talked to our own security
consultants," Banner said. "We thought the story was
newsworthy. We believe that to this day."

Banner said ABC News was sensitive to the fact that British
authorities didn't want the photographs broadcast in the U.K.

"We gave the London investigators the benefit of the doubt
by not airing our broadcast in London that night," Banner said.

"We evaluated the story we had, which is larger than just
the pictures," Banner said. "This plot may have been larger,
there were 16 unexploded devices, which we found to be quite
troubling."

ABC News also absorbed criticism in another part of the
world Friday when Russia's foreign ministry reacted angrily to
the "Nightline" airing of an interview Thursday night with the
mastermind of the Beslan school massacre, Shamil Basayev. The
foreign ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Moscow,
Daniel Russell, to express its disapproval.

Boris Malakhov, a Foreign Ministry official speaking on
Russian television, said Moscow condemned "the airing on a
leading U.S. TV network of an interview with a bandit and
murderer of children, Shamil Basayev, who was put on the U.N.'s
international terrorist list."

"By doing so, the U.S. network demonstrated an outrageous
disregard for standards of journalistic responsibility and
human values," Malakhov said. "The airing of this interview
disagrees with the efforts of the global community, including
Russia and the U.S., in the fight against the threat of global
terrorism."

The interview had been conducted by freelance journalist
Andrei Babitsky, who met with Chechen rebels in June. He sought
out a Western broadcast outlet that would air the interview,
and "Nightline" executive producer Tom Bettag and anchor Ted
Koppel decided it was newsworthy. Knowing the subject matter
would be controversial, ABC News alerted the Russian embassy
earlier in the week.

The televising of leaked photos from the London bombings
was not the first time police have clashed with the media since
July 7. Police have urged news networks, including Sky News,
BBC News 24 and ITN news, not to air pictures or videos sent in
by witnesses before authorities have examined them as evidence.

Broadcasters reported receiving hundreds of text messages
and video images within hours of the four bomb attacks in
London, as multimedia-enabled cell phones were able to send
images of the underground carnage and surface explosions that
police believe could contain valuable evidence.

Representatives for Sky News could not be reached for
comment, but a source at Britain's most popular news network
said that pictures, texts and broadcasts were reviewed
internally before going on air.

"It's not as if we just put things out there without
thinking about the consequences. We have a process," the source
said.

On the advice of police, Sky News suspended live pictures
Friday morning of a West London police siege believed to
involve one of the failed bombers.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter