Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (5 February 2002)


  The Committee asked for information on how the CCS balances informing the public against the risk of alarming people and on measures we are considering to educate the media on the most appropriate approach to publicising potential threats. Research was conducted during the last half of October 2001 and again at the beginning of December 2001. The aim was to examine the balance between the public's need for information, advice and reassurance; and the problems of publishing information which might cause unnecessary alarm.

  Among the areas investigated were:

    —  how safe and secure people felt;

    —  what people expected from the Government in terms of prevention of, or protection from, a terrorist attack;

    —  changes in public behaviour (including economic activity);

    —  what people wanted to know, where they obtained their information, and whom they trusted to tell the truth; and

    —  views on the role of the media.

  On the specific need for information, the research found that people did not have an urgent need for information. Indeed, they did not want to see information published which might help terrorists plan an attack or create unwarranted anxiety. However, they made it clear that they would want full and fast information if an attack took place, or there was a credible threat. The second trance of the first confirmed the findings of the first.

  There is a longstanding arrangement between the media and the Cabinet Office (and previously the Home Office) for the discussion at senior levels of the handling of emergencies of all kinds. It is called the Media Emergency Forum (MEF), and includes the emergency services and major public services. The MEF discusses the handling procedures and relationships in general, but also examines the handling of specific events or disasters after they have been resolved to ensure that lessons are identified and learned.

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