Terrorism and television make ideal partners, each willing to exploit the other’s interest in the sensational. Unlike a war, which can grind on for months or years, a hostage-taking or a hijacking is well suited to TV’s short attention span. With Terror!, Canada’s Global Television and Britain’s Channel Four Television have compressed 15 years of international terrorism into a package of “greatest hits”—including the 1970 FLQ kidnapping crisis and last year’s Armenian raid on the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa. Although the dramatic footage speaks for itself, the producers have embellished it with a lurid commentary and machine-gun-paced editing. Narrator Arthur Hill repeatedly underlines the obvious with such statements as, “These blood-filled pictures show the horror that terrorists willingly inflict.”
At the beginning of the two-part program Hill’s announcement that certain scenes may be unsuitable for children sounds more like an enticement than a warning. One graphic segment shows two Armenian “traitors” being shot by members of their own movement in a Turkish field. Apart from such voyeuristic glimpses of violence, the program contains exclusive interviews with members of terrorist groups, including the Palestinian Black September and the Japanese Red Army. One subject is Willi Voss, a pudgy and bespectacled German who helped organize Black September’s massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Says Voss: “I accept all the things that I did. I have no regrets.”
Unfortunately, the interviews are pared down to staccato clips which titillate rather than enlighten. And when the program finally begins to analyse the politics of terror, it only betrays its own ideological bias. Shadowy defectors claim nearly all terrorists are controlled by the U.S.S.R.—yet the program makes no mention of covert activities by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The producers of Terror! have worked hard to gather some extraordinary footage, but the result is a shameless concoction of cheap entertainment and Cold War propaganda.
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