How to report on terrorism and killing sprees?

News coverage of the recent wave of attacks in Europe and the US has been tainted by rumour and speculation. Following one another in such rapid succession, the events have left the media with too little time for proper research and reflection, some commentators complain. Others worry that news items are being played down or even censored for political reasons.

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e-vestnik (BG) /

German media censor refugee policy critics

Germany's large papers tend to censor statements that are critical of Merkel's refugee policy, the web portal e-vestnik observes:

“Critical comments on the government's refugee policy are casually put down as xenophobic, racist and neo-Nazi. ... The reader forums of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other papers are subject to strict censorship. Sometimes as few as five readers' comments are posted under the articles, whereas articles in British dailies on the same topic often have more than 500 comments, many by German readers. ... Germans from the former GDR who experienced communism write that they feel as if they were back in the days when Deutsche Welle and foreign broadcasters were the only reliable information sources. Today you have to read British papers and Russia Today to understand what's happening in Germany.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Sensationalism damages journalism

The coverage of the recent terrorist attacks shows that the electronic media's obsession with breaking news poses a threat to fundamental journalistic principles, warns Jyllands-Posten:

“Of course the media should report on attacks. ... But live reporting and the rush to get in there first also demonstrates that sensation-mongering and the need to be seen to be 'on the case' are a threat to key journalistic principles. These include questions of relevance and respect for victims. In a flurry of speculation and oracles, rumours get spread with no thought given to how much truth is behind them. ... The breaking-news culture poses an enormous challenge for editors, who should be capable of biting their tongues sometimes and ignoring the craving for sensational news in favour of rational deliberation about how much and how long to report on an event.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Media lacks time to reflect

With the spate of terrorist attacks in recent months journalists have lacked time for proper research and reflection, Ariana Ferentinou, the Turkish correspondent for the Greek TV station ERT, laments in Hürriyet Daily News:

“The amazing speed with which we go 'in and out' of stories that affect large numbers of people is worrying. There is not enough time or concentration to do what we are supposed to do; in other words, for more data gathering and cool reflection. Hence, we become less involved and more desensitized as the next big story eliminates the last one from our recent memory. ... From Texas and Eldorado, from drowning refugees in the Mediterranean to the attacks by 'depressed' maniacs against innocent people in Nice or Berlin, we are witnessing an alarming acceleration of heinous actions that are very difficult to place in an ideological context. Historians are talking of tectonic changes taking place in our world. I could only wish that we had more time to reflect in order to report on them while retaining our full memory of all things past.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Media must break hate strategy

The daily paper Le Monde has joined ranks with other French media outlets that want to stop publishing the photos of terrorists. Editor-in-chief Jérôme Fenoglio explains why:

“If we do not see a more responsible attitude from the corporations that control social media, the new mass media, it will become increasingly difficult to cope with the consequences of the strategy of hate. Its best allies - rumour and conspiracy - today stand on a par with reliable and verified information. Websites and newspapers that produce this information must also engage in a degree of introspection. ... If we want to break this strategy of hate, if we want to defeat it without surrender, such reflections, debates and adjustments to the tactics of an enemy that is turning all the customs and instruments of modern life against us are indispensable. We owe it to all victims of the criminal organisation, the so-called Islamic State.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Self-censorship serves only the terrorists

Reporting less on the terrorists in order to reduce their media platform is a misguided notion, journalist Petre Iancu of the Romanian service of the Deutsche Welle believes:

“The perpetrators and their psychological profiles are relevant. The public has a legitimate interest in knowing who it is being attacked by and why. ... It might seem like a good idea not to offer terrorists and psychopaths the media platform these narcissists crave. ... But this argument is misguided and paradoxically gives the terrorists fresh ammunition. Because in reacting to terrorism it is imperative that we don't do these fanactics the favour of abolishing fundamental rights in democracies or sacrificing our Western lifestyle. And freedom of the press is part of this.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Europe increasingly vulnerable to violence

Trying to stop the media from publishing details about the perpetrators' background is the wrong approach, writes Göteborgs-Posten after the latest attacks:

“In their coverage of the attacks some Swedish papers have referred to the ethnic background of the attackers. Is it relevant? Yes, because many of these crimes are hard to understand if you don't know who the perpetrators are and don't understand the reasons why they feel shut out from society. The fact that the motives and explanations are varied and complex doesn't make any difference. It is well known that sociological, ideological and individual psychological factors often interact here. There will always be people who commit insane acts. But Europe's politicians must learn to deal with a situation in which the number of violent crimes threatens to rise substantially because of growing social marginalisation and ideological conflicts.”

Público (PT) /

Don't let media become a weapon for terrorists

Incisive and critical reporting is more vital than ever in times of panic, Público admonishes:

“At a time when Europe and the world already know that the wave of terrorist attacks planned or inspired by IS will continue and that each attack is aimed at generating as much media hype as possible (that's how terrorism works), particular caution is needed. Not only as regards the way we journalists cover such events but also in the way each incident is categorised immediately after it occurs. Without questioning the principle of freedom of information we must realise that unless certain criteria and ethics are applied the media become a weapon exploited by the terrorists. The Munich case broke with all the clichés. Unfortunately there will be more such attacks - so we must be on our guard.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Don't leave the field to Twitter and Facebook

The media came under criticism for covering Friday's bloodbath in Munich for hours and hours without more than scraps of information. The daily paper Die Welt explains why this was still the right thing to do:

“It is not the task of the media to remain silent until every last detail of an incident has been uncovered. It is their duty to report on events precisely when the situation is very unclear - albeit with caution and restraint, it goes without saying. … What would be the alternative? Not to write? Not to report? To leave it to Twitter and Facebook and the blogs and forums to spread rumours? … No, it is right that the professional media doesn't stay away in such cases. … It is also right that they make clear what they don't know - that too is part of serious reporting. Virtually all the media outlets did just that on Friday evening. And this is precisely what sets them apart from what went on in the so-called social media second for second.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Dangerous circus in the social networks

Those commenting in social media on the Munich attack played right into the hands of terrorists, Avvenire complains:

“By constantly repeating the scenes of the attacker shooting victims, they were unwittingly doing terrorist propaganda a huge favour. … And for the most part it wasn't journalists who spread the lies, pseudo-reports, manipulated videos and photos. It was mainly the many participants in the big do-it-yourself information network game. This circus must be stopped. Now more than ever all our civil societies, without exception, need more attentiveness, resolve and a cool headed approach. … A new chapter needs to be written and we journalists have a decisive role to play here.”