The Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion.
It is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media.
Row as BBC cuts Bafta speech John Plunkett
Monday April 18, 2005
The BBC has come under fire for cutting the acceptance speech of a Bafta winner who last night criticised the media’s coverage of the threat posed to Britain by terrorists.
Adam Curtis, who won the factual series award for BBC2’s The Power of Nightmares, used his speech to question newspaper and broadcast reports of last week’s ricin trial, which he said had sensationalised the threat of a poison terror attack.
The acceptance speech was removed from BBC1’s Bafta coverage when it aired two hours later.
Mr Curtis said he suspected his comments had been cut because they "touched a nerve".
Although he did not name the corporation in his speech, he had singled out the BBC’s coverage at another TV awards ceremony two days earlier.
"I wasn’t really surprised. It could be because I was incredibly boring but I suspect it touched a nerve because this issue has got to be addressed and broadcasting organisations know this," he said.
"Reporting of the whole terrorist threat has either become exaggerated, distorted or in some cases a complete fabrication and they are beginning to realise this. They know they have to sort it out. It has touched a nerve and the fact they cut it shows that."
He said the media had failed in its coverage of Kamel Bourgass, who was jailed for 17 years last week for plotting to commit a public nuisance by poisons and explosives. He was already serving a life sentence for the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake.
But the jury could not agree on a charge of conspiracy to murder, and eight other men were cleared in trials relating to the Algerian.
Mr Curtis, a senior producer in the BBC’s news and current affairs department, said reports of an "al-Qaida plot to poison Britain" that could have consequences "equal or greater to 9/11" were "massively exaggerated or a complete fantasy".
But a BBC spokeswoman defended the decision to cut the speech. She denied it was politically motivated, and said it was one of a number of edits made to the awards because of timing.
"Any cuts to speeches were purely because of time constraints – this year we had more awards than ever before. The nature of the show is that it is broadcast with a short delay live in the evening – any decisions on cuts were made purely on the basis of timing."
"It’s a shame they cut that out," said Stephen Lambert, the director of programmes at independent RDF, who executive produced The Power of Nightmares.
"I think someone who was editing the show thought ‘this is politics, we can’t have that’, and took it out. It’s disappointing because Adam gave the most interesting speech of the night," Mr Lambert added.
He said the BBC had failed to give the factual categories at last night’s awards the coverage they deserved.
"They were all lumped together and there were no clips from any of the shows.
"I can’t believe that’s what the BBC should be doing if it is trying to celebrate the breadth and excellence of television. It was the same in the news and current affairs categories. I know there is the view that people want to see celebrities, and if it was on ITV then that might be an argument."
The Power of Nightmares, which was written, produced and directed by Mr Curtis, won the best documentary series prize at the Broadcasting Press Guild last Friday.
After accepting the BPG award, Mr Curtis said: "The extrapolation from the very tiny bit of evidence that was reported in court to the reports we did on the Six O’Clock News and other bulletins was not in any way justified.
"As someone who had been in the court room and watched the trial collapse, I could not understand how you could take that very limited evidence and extrapolate from that a story of a threat as ghastly as September 11. In the post-Hutton era I think that raises very serious questions."
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