The year 2015 has long been stained with terrorist attacks in different parts of the world. The targets are various, but the goals are the same; the namesake, terror. Allow me to start by conveying my sincere condolences to the loved ones of the deceased and prayers for the wounded in this month's attack in Paris. Just like a month ago, the terrorist attack took place in a nation's capital and left more than 100 souls dead in its wake.
Repeating the same thing with the same expectations even though it failed to register is indeed a task for greater fools but in every part of our life we need the greater fools. So bear with me while I become the greater fool in this case as well. On this page both İbrahim Altay and I repeatedly tried to either lay out or relay guidelines to effectively and ethically cover terrorism while urging for expertize on the subject. Let's list those from 2015 for further reference: "Call for Peace Journalism" on Jan. 12, "Covering terrorism: An uneasy symbiosis" on March 29, "Turkish media failed the test" on April 6, "Covering terrorism in turbulent times" on Aug. 3 and "Cog in the fear machine" in Oct. 12. So this is the sixth article on the same subject and I am only including the articles that focused solely on this issue. If I were to add titles that mentioned the problem the list would be significantly longer. Nevertheless let's hope it will be the last.
We weren't the only ones to do so, as numerous academics, journalists and ombudsmen chipped in on the issue providing a number of perspectives. But the general tone was always clear: Do not grease the cogs of the fear machine that is terrorism.
Unfortunately the coverage of the latest Paris terror attack was anything but. Here are few examples:
Several videos of the shootings that took place throughout the city roamed the media agencies, news websites and television channels with the glowing breaking news sticker. Along with the ever present and ever useless "this content is disturbing for our viewers/readers" warning of course. It is "reassuring" that no one will get sued for causing emotional distraught.
One of the videos left me in outrage for two reasons. First of all, allow me to relay the content of the video. It shows a pregnant woman dangling from a window, trying to escape the shooters while screaming "I'm pregnant, please help me I'm going to fall." Thankfully she survived. The first cause for my outrage was the obvious one, it was out of fear and sadness of the situation. The second was its existence on nearly every major news outlet. While I can understand that it was presented as a survival story, but in most cases readers and viewers had to watch the video or read the whole article to find out whether the woman survived or not as the titles of the news articles conveniently left that information out and let their audience wallow in suspense and fear.
However in order to give credit where it is due, we must point out after the initial shock of the attack media started to focus on the recovery and solidarity process. This focus on the positive and cooperation between nations in the face of tragedies will go a long way in repairing dissent sowed by the terrorist organizations.
Allow me to finish my thoughts by quoting the basic principles of covering terrorism.
- Hiding terror attacks from the public gives rise to doubt toward the media. Instead of hiding the news, we should report on it quickly, truthfully and completely.
When reporting on terrorism we must stay clear of provocative titles without exception. Inching toward sensationalism in this area only serves conflict rather than peace. Using inflammatory language while focusing on horrifying details about the attack only serves the purpose of terrorism and provides a breeding ground for notions like hate, contempt and revenge. We must be respectful of the grief of those hit by terrorism. Using photos taken at funeral ceremonies, especially close ups of grieving loved ones of victims, is wrong. If possible, photos from funeral ceremonies should not be used at all.
In articles, we should not feature quotes or hate speech of those who instill hatred, ethnic discrimination and racism to the public, no matter who they are.
Like in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Parisians stand by their slogan of "Not Afraid." I suggest that the media follow suit and try not to change it to "Afraid."