Media and terrorism - Should the media increase censorship on news about terrorist attacks?


media and terrorism

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We discuss the difficult relationship between media and terrorism, and the trade-off between the right to information and the risks of promoting violent messages. Is media coverage helping terrorists? Should terrorist attacks and atrocities be censored or broadcasted on TV? Join the debate on media and terrorism

In the last few decades, terrorism has become a recurrent strategy by radical or revolutionary groups to get media attention and spread fear. Thanks to global media, news of terrorist attacks and assassinations can reach any part of the world within minutes. Some argue that media coverage may stimulate copycat terror attacks. The recent wave of terrorist attacks using trucks and cars against innocent pedestrians, in Stockholm, London, Jerusalem, Berlin and Paris, may be consider an example of how criminal behavior is replicated.

Media and terrorism

Globalization allows people from all over the world to access news via radio, television and the Internet. At the same time, thanks to the progress in communication technologies, radical groups and terrorist organizations are spreading across borders. They have members and sympathizers present in many countries who they want to inspire and also "enemies" they want to shock and terrorize. Maybe the most famous examples lately are those of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. These international organizations have gained great media attention and thanks to it managed to recruit many new members and supporters.

Media coverage is a double-edged sword. On the one side it contributes to infrom the public about the atrocities commited and serve to raise awareness and support against terrorism and violent acts. On the other hand, media coverage helps these groups instill fear and reach potential supporters far away. For example, the news of the multiple killing in a the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and the decapitation of hostages in Irak have caused great repulsion, anger and fear in our societies. Those acts are both relevant pieces of information and attractive content for the media. Most TV channels and newspapers have intensively reported these incidents. Western media apply a certain degree of censorship when they report these attacks, especially images of executions and dead bodies are avoided. But is this censorship enough to prevent terrorist groups, school shootings and serial killers to reach their goals?

Increase censorship?

Islamist terrorist attack have been recently intensified. The terrosist attacks in CairoStockholm, London, Berlin, OrlandoBrussels, Istambul, Bagdad, Grand-Bassam, Ankara and Paris have shocked us all. Images of tracks ramming into pedestrians and victims bleeding and crying have been broadcasted. Many argue that some images are overly explicit and unnecessary. For instance, showing a man on his knees and an assassin next to him with a sword in his hands is already too much. Any viewer can immediately imagine what has happened. We have all watched violent scenes like that in movies. So showing this images and dedicating so much time of media coverage to these kind of barbaric acts can be interpreted as a sort of hypocrisy. The censorship is only partial and they are giving a broad audience to the atrocities, which is exactly what terrorists want. People defending this argument will recommend not showing any images or maybe not even mentioning the assassinations on the news, to invalidate the terrorists’ strategy.

On the other hand, other persons may state that hiding the information will not make the facts disappear. Citizens have the right to be informed, and even if the information is unpleasant, it is still information. Media may take some precautions while airing the videos, but they must inform their audience of what is going on. Citizens have a right to information, moreover sometimes broadcasting images of the suspects may help identifying and capturing them. In addition, thanks to the Internet and social media, the information will probably spread anyway. 

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Emerging questions: What do you think about media coverage of terrorist attacks? Should the right to information prevail? Does media coverage contributes to fight or to promote terrorism? Should terrorist attacks and mass assassinations be further censored by the media?  

Check out our debates on police surveillance and social media monitoring and on the pros and cons of military drones

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Media and terrorism - Should the media increase censorship on news about terrorist attacks?

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