Tuesday, 22 January 2008
Do mass media help terrorists?
Raphael Cohen-Almagor is an israeli professor (he's the founder and director of the Center for Democratic Studies at the University of Haifa) and he wrote a paper called "Media Coverage of Acts of Terrorism: Troubling Episodes and Suggested Guidelines"; the paper was published in vol 30-3 (2005) of Canadian Journal of Communication.
In the paper you can read a long list of unprofessional and unethical mistakes made by journalists during coverage of acts of terrorism.
Journalists should never forget that when they report some news, they do not give information only to the public, they do give information to the public and to the terrorists.
Sometimes it seems that the rule of the scoop is more important than the rule of saving human lives. And the consequence can be a matter of life or death.
At the end of the paper, the author wrote some guidelines for journalists:
- The media need to be accountable for the consequences of their coverage
- The media should not jeopardize human life
- The media are advised to co-operate with the government when human lives are at stake in order to bring a peaceful end to the terrorist episode. This is not to suggest that the police or other security organizations should have a veto power over reporting. What is suggested is co-operation and mutual respect and understanding between the government agencies and the media
- The media should not glorify acts of terror as they glorified the SLA during the Hearst kidnapping
- The media should refrain from sensational and panicky headlines, from inflammatory catchwords, and from needless repletion of photos from bloody scenes
- Terrorism should be explicitly condemned for its brutality and violent, indiscriminate nature, as the Israeli media on the whole condemn terror
- The media must not pay or be paid for covering terrorist incidents
- The media are advised not to take upon themselves to mediate between the terrorists and the government. Special qualifications are required before one assumes such a responsibility upon oneself. Journalists are there to cover the event, not to become part of it
- The media are expected to refrain from making dangerous speculations about the terrorists' plans, government response, hostages' messages, and other matters. Speculations might hinder crisis management
- Media professionals should have background information about the terrorists they are required to cover. They should do research prior to their coverage. We should learn from the Hanafi incident, which luckily did not end with the murder of a hostage just because one reporter was ill-informed and did not do his homework as he should have
- The media should not broadcast live terrorist incidents that include hostage taking. This is in order not to jeopardize human life and not to impede a government's attempts to rescue the hijacked. This is not to say that the media should not cover such incidents. Rather, there should be a delay of a few minutes during which an experienced editor inspects the coverage and authorizes what should be on air and what should not, as was the case when hostages were released from the Iranian embassy in London in 1980
- The media are advised not to interview terrorists while the terrorist incident is still in motion. Lines of communications between the authorities and the terrorists should be left open. The media should not impede the negotiations process, as they did in the Hanafi takeover in Washington
- The media should not co-operate with terrorists who stage events. The BBC's decision not to broadcast the spectacle in Carrickmore was right
- The media are required to show sensitivity to the victims and to their loved ones. This critical guideline should be observed during terrorist incidents and, no less importantly, also after their conclusion
- The media are expected not to report details that might harm victims' families
- The area in which the terrorist incident takes place should not be open for anybody who testifies that he or she is a journalist. Only senior and experienced reporters should be allowed in. Junior and inexperienced reporters should undergo a learning process during which they fathom the complexities involved. Adequate training is a necessary precondition
Media Coverage of Acts of Terrorism: Troubling Episodes and Suggested Guidelines 2005
(20 pages + 8 pages of notes and references)
Hindering governmenti activities
Co-operation with terrorists and payment for interviews
Lack of homework and live interviews during crisis