About spin and DIY

Rise in terrorist attacks in 2012” exclaims the headline of one of the latest Europol press releases.
Terrible. And scary.
After the Boston bombers, are we next in line?

The press release goes on:
“Findings from Europol’s latest strategic analysis product – the 2013 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report – show how the total number of terrorist attacks and related arrests in the EU significantly increased in 2012, in contrast to previous years. This and other findings in the report describe a threat from terrorism that remains strong and varied in Europe.”

Oh dear.
And there are statistics to back up the claims:
* The number of EU attacks in EU states were 219, up from 174.
* 537 individuals were arrested in relation to terrorist offences, up from 484.
* 17 people died in 2012 of terrorist attacks, the most prominent of which involved a religiously inspired solo terrorist, who shot and killed seven people in France.

Let´s be honest.  “Religiously inspired” reads “muslim” to most of us, doesn´t it? We remember the tragic events from last year when a lone madman from France in cold blood killed little children for going to a school of a different confession. He was a solo murderer but not the only one:
“In the course of separate investigations, weapons and ammunition were also found with other religiously inspired cells in 2012.”

That´s bad.
Better read the report then, find out what we are up against.

167 of the 219 attacks last year were separatists of some kind. The Irish kind, the Basque kind and the Corsican kind.
About half of the individuals arrested for terrorist offences last year were also separatists.
Add to that 18 attacks from left-wing or anarchist terrorists and 2 attacks from right-wing terrorists.
Out of the 437 people that stood trial for terrorist offences in 2012, 95 were “religiously inspired”. 278 individuals were separatists, 59 were left-wing.

Not so religious then. And not overwhelmingly muslim either. The major threat to us Europeans is our oh-so-old political infighting.

Here´s a phrase summing up the situation that I also found in the report but that somehow did not find its way into the press release:
“Attacks by terrorists and violent extremists have not markedly increased since 2008”.

So what can we learn from this? Well, to always read a full report, of course.

That the Europol press people are good at putting a spin on facts so as to make sure the report gets a mention in the press, is not really surprising. “Not markedly increased” is simply not good news.
The press officers´ good work paid off, the headline “Terrorism is on the rise in Europe” was spread through the world thanks to the news industry.
Not quite true maybe, but good for Europol when they ask for more funding.

You could blame lazy journalists if you wanted, for misleading the public. But you would find then that they hardly have time during a working day to scrutinize reports. Especially not when it comes attached to a well written press release, ready to print.
Already in 2008 Nick Davies of the Guardian showed us in his book  “The Flat Earth News“ [1] is that journalists had been outnumbered by press officers.
The ratio journalists versus press officers have gone from bad to worse since then according to several studies , n the US going from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 4 to 1 in 2010. In Brussels there are 300 less accredited journalists today than 5 years ago, reports AIP/IPA.

In a nutshell: More people are being paid to put a spin on things than are being paid to check facts.
So “quality journalism” finds itself an endangered species, not for lack of quality in journalists but for lack of time.

Until quality journalism finds its place in this fast changing news world, I guess we´ll just have to read all the reports ourselves.

[1] Publisher Random House. Great read!