Looters make everyone look flat-footed

Rolling news programmes, which in normal times are about as interesting as watching paint dry, suddenly become utterly gripping in moments of national crisis.

But as looters took to the streets last night it quickly became clear that neither BBC News 24 nor Sky News had enough camera crews on the ground or reporters in their newsrooms.

We now know that many more serious incidents occurred than were reported by these programmes.

Media criticism of the police for allowing looters free rein is a bit rich, when the media itself seems to have been caught off guard by the riots and failed to provide comprehensive coverage.

If the police were woefully undermanned and slow to realise how rapidly the looting gangs were being mobilised, the same could be said of the media. Frankly their network of local contacts looked pathetically poor.

Of course no-one can afford to keep a full-time standing army of journalists – or policemen – on standby for a one-in-a-lifetime story like this.

Maybe it’s time for a massive expansion of the volunteer Special Constabulary, with training in riot control. That sounds a safer option than the unofficial vigilante bands that one expects to spring up in defence of local communities.

And maybe news organisations could create networks of semi-trained citizen journalists, giving them an ear to the ground in every neighbourhood. There’d be no shortage of volunteers.

– GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.