Earlier this week, Turkey was the target of one of the biggest terror attacks in its history. Considering the international stature of Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport, reaction to the attack was certainly the biggest yet. Our thoughts and prayers are with those afflicted by the heinous attack.
However, the media's reaction certainly left much to be desired, both during the attack and the initial aftermath. The Atatürk Airport terror attack was not the first this year either in Turkey or in Europe. It wasn't new in execution. It was not even the first of its kind, considering Brussels airport suffered a very similar attack in March. Yet the media continues to repeat mistakes over and over, as the action plans of individual media organizations are still either uncertain or neglected.
During the initial moments after the attack, when everyone around the world was looking for the tiniest bits of information, social media and consequently media itself was filled with false speculations. The number of attackers or even the method of the attack wasn't certain, but that didn't stop people from posting their ideas of how the event transpired and who was to blame. In an effort to break the most news, websites and social media accounts of news organizations took those speculations and published them as unconfirmed reports, adding fuel to the fire.
While the information presented by the majority of media was faulty, their methods of attempting to access credible or firsthand eyewitness accounts weren't much better. Moments after first word of the attack hit newsrooms around the world, reporters went to social media, trying to find people who were at the airport during the attack though police had not even announced an all clear. Reporters tried calling these possible witnesses if they could find their numbers from social media accounts, and in this rash effort of misguided journalism they unknowingly risked people's safety. As the number of attackers and their locations was still unknown and the possibility of terrorists roaming the terminal looking for hiding survivors remained, a phone call could very well be the reason for a horrible tragedy.
Several media organizations mistakenly used photos of the Brussels attack when announcing the attack on Atatürk Airport. If we are to take this at face value and call it a mistake, the publish-first-edit-later mentality is especially damaging when reporting on events of this magnitude.
Newsrooms must prepare and implement and action plan for terror attacks and organize a drill for the future, since the experience that might be presumed of media covering numerous terror attacks over the last 12 months is most certainly not evident.
International media's coverage
As the dust settled after the terrorist attack at Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport and the first photos of the victims began to fill the pages of international media, inconsistency and hypocrisy were palpable as media ethics were apparently thrown out the window. Without even the slightest effort to censor the lifeless bodies of the victims, international media published photographs of the attack on the airport for readers and viewers with bright red breaking news banners. Considering that the coverage of similar terror attacks within the borders of EU earlier this year didn't receive the same crude treatment and that the necessary respect for the victims was clearly shown, this certainly isn't a simple omission of journalistic principles but rather the blatant display of a double standard.
Guidelines for covering terrorism
Our updated guidelines for covering terrorism from our article titled "Discrepancies and hypocrisy" published back in March 28, 2016:
- Share the news of a terror attack with the public, but do not fall into the trap of dramatization and speculation. Do not exaggerate, distort or speculate. Do not share any information with the reader if there is the slightest doubt it is untrue. While in the quest of publishing news reports as quick as possible, do not release incomplete articles that will only fuel uncertainty.
- Do not act as public relations departments for terrorist organizations. This can be done by not preparing articles, reports and editorials that further the goals of the organizations.
- Do not use material produced by terrorist organizations under any circumstance whether the materials are written, audio or visual. All of these are the voice of terrorists, and by relaying them it only provides them with a megaphone. Do not become the carrier of their messages and, of course, do not protect those messages by rationalizing them.
- Some things are what they appear to be. Do not dub murderers "freedom fighters." By using terms like activist, revolutionary, guerrilla, militant and militia when describing them you will start to legitimize them in the eye of the public. Call them what they are -- terrorists.
- Do not try to instill an idea, purpose, public identity or importance to terrorist organizations. Writing emotional stories about terrorists only acts as promotion for the organizations and encourages people to support or even join them.
- Do not pay undue attention to the nationality of terrorists, their language, ethnicity or religion. Establishing relations between terror and another identity group only alienates the said group and misses the principal point that terrorists forego their other identities in favor of their organizations. Do not discriminate between terrorists.
- Do not play into the hands of terrorist organizations by publishing bloody photographs of attacks. Doing so helps them spread fear, terror and hopelessness. Do not cause public indignation.
- Do not violate the rights of those mourning at funeral ceremonies with close-up recordings or photographs of them crying.
- Do not let terror put a chasm between you and your humanity or democratic values. Do not generalize, alienate or paint a target on a group or segment of society in the heat of the moment.