BBC and Gavin De Becker: Media Fear Tactics

This paper will take a look at two articles on BBC World News and how they directly relate to Gavin De Becker’s Media Fear Tactics. It will take a look at the way news articles are presented so that the viewer and reader begin to have fear instilled in them as soon as they begin the article. It will also take a look at why the news coverage would attempt to do this to their viewers and readers.

The first article on BBC World News that got a lot of attention was the news article titled Bio-terror strike ‘is inevitable’. This article is going right into the fear tactics by making people think that there is a reason to be afraid of a biological attack. “Police and health authorities around the world were under-prepared for such an attack, Ron Noble told a bio-terror conference in Cape Town, South Africa” (Bio-terror strike). As Gavin De Becker states in his media fear tactics, being unprepared does not necessarily mean something devastating will happen.

These are stories where TV news people cannot lose. They ask hospitals or public health officials or the utility company or the fire department if they can handle a disaster of X magnitude. If the response is yes, they just keep upping the disaster magnitude until the response is no.

Here’s an example from NBC News: “A survey of 30 hospitals in four states and Washington, D.C., found them ill-equipped to handle a widespread biological disaster.” A guaranteed fear-inducer, pokes right at our insecurity. First off, just asking the question implies that a “widespread disaster” is coming, and it’s even better if the survey was part of a “new study,” because that implies that the question itself is well founded.

Either way, the basic premise of the story is true: If hospitals currently able to handle 500 patients an hour get 5000 patients in some terrible hour, they will be unprepared. The standard of care will drop. Is there something surprising about that? Do TV news writers think Americans assume there is some extra team of 200 doctors and an extra 5000 fully-equipped hospital beds waiting in their community somewhere just out of sight?

Indeed, hospitals are unprepared for that which they have never had to be prepared. Being able to deal with what predictably comes down the pike and putting your resources where they are most likely to be needed is good planning. An emergency room would have to trade some daily-used resource to be ready for mass casualties that don’t appear to be coming. Yes, as the world changes and events change, so does preparation – but expecting hospitals to be fully prepared, for example, to treat thousands of inhalation anthrax casualties when there’s been a few lethal cases in 30 years would constitute bad planning.
One can make an “unprepared” story about anything; America’s police are unprepared for a “widespread crime disaster;” our supermarkets are unprepared for a “widespread food shortage.” It all depends upon how you define the word widespread. Put a microphone in some official’s face and ask if he’s adequately prepared for an attack on the harbor by Godzilla, and you’ve got an unreadiness story. (Becker)

This article was obviously written to instill fear into the people that read it. By stating that they are under-prepared, they are saying that it will happen and a lot of people will be hurt. “The world must face the inevitability of a bio-terror attack by al-Qaeda, the head of Interpol has warned” (Bio-terror strike). This statement in the article follows the media fear tactics by stating that an official has made a warning. Gavin describes the warning message simply by saying, “Yes, reports and experts do seem to warn, fear, and worry a lot” (Becker).

The second article on BBC World News is an article titled Number with HIV ‘at highest yet’. This article is a direct comparison to media fear tactics because it goes on to talk about how the epidemic is spreading beyond the control of medical doctors. The first paragraph states “The number of people living with HIV is at its highest yet, a report shows” (Number with HIV). Gavin directly attacks this by saying:

That’s right, anytime you have an audit or an inspection; you’re going to find something. Auditors are people who’ve been hired to write reports identifying deficiencies. Have you ever heard of a one-line audit report? “The auditors didn’t a find one damn thing that could possibly be improved.” Did you ever hear of an inspector who said: ‘We’ve wasted six months on this inspection, because the place is bloomin’ perfect. Whoever’s running this show sure thought of everything.” (Becker)

The article starts with the fear tactics in the first paragraph. It than goes on to say, “And it warns there are growing epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central and East Asia” (Number With HIV). Gavin directly responds the same as the last article by saying, “Yes, reports and experts do seem to warn, fear, and worry a lot” (Becker).

The next statement in the article sounds like a good statement. “Treatment coverage in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba now exceeds 80%”(Number With HIV). This at first seems like a good statement, but Gavin quickly retracts the statement by stating: “15% of Americans are at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents on our nation’s highways this year.” Whenever you see a percentage cited, reverse it and think about the other share in the equation. For example, from the story above you can conclude that 85% of Americans are not at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents this year. Sort of good news, all things considered. Also, phrases such “a sizeable percentage,” or “an alarming percentage” can be applied to just about any percentage. Get the actual number, and then you decide if it’s sizeable or alarming to you. (Becker)

After a percentage is looked at in that aspect, than it takes on a little bit of a different look than it did while the reporter was saying it. While this article is very informative and probably not meant to be as much as a media fear tactic as the last article, the tactics are still prevalent. This article was just written to alarm the people who read it instead of instill fear in them. The writers wanted people to be shocked and not understand how such a horrible thing could happen in the world. While this is not directly putting fear into the reader, it is still making the reader worry about the news that they just read.

These articles directly show that Gavin is correct in his media fear tactic theory. The way that these articles are written directly relate to Gavin’s tactics and way of promoting fear. The next question that should be answered is why the news coverage would do this in the first place. The biggest reason to that would have to be to keep the people watching. Movies, television, and computers have raised people’s value of entertainment so high, the news has to report things that are so horrible, so scary, and so unbelievable so that people watch. If they just reported the news without the fear tactics, it would be extremely dull, and no one would watch the news. The stations ratings would drop and they would lose an extremely large amount of money. That is what all of the news coverage is about, money.


BBC News, (2005). Bio-terror strike ‘is inevitable’. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2005, from Bio-Terror Strike ‘Is Inevitable’ Web site:

BBC News, (2005). Number with hiv ‘at highest yet’. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2005, from Number with HIV ‘at highest yet’ Web site:

Becker, G. D. (n.d.). Retrieved Nov. 21, 2005, from Media Fear Tactics Web site:

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