UNESCO publishes timely primer for covering terrorism

UNESCO publishes timely primer for covering terrorism
Covering the many facets of vi­olent extremism is one of the toughest challenges journalists face today. UNESCO’s new handbook, “Terrorism and the Media,” is designed to help them navigate these intricacies.
The primer states that terrorism and the fight against it “have become major elements of domestic and internation­al politics, with the media firmly on the front lines, especially when attacks tar­get civilian populations.”
The 110-page manual is not just for those who specialize in national secu­rity. In today’s world, any journalist can be thrust into reporting on a ter­rorist act.
Case in point: Christopher Hope, the London Daily Telegraph’s chief po­litical correspondent, was in the Parlia­ment press gallery on the afternoon of March 22 when “a big bang” drew his attention.
He glanced out a window and began tweeting: “Shots fired outside Parlia­ment. Loud explosion then shooting. Man lying shot outside gates to Parlia­ment. ... Armed police now arriving.”
Hope’s eyewitness account of the at­tack by British-born Khalid Masood along Westminster Bridge swept cy­berspace. The UNESCO manual pro­vides tips, resources and research suit­able for veterans like Hope and for media newcomers alike.
The author, Belgian journalist and university professor Jean-Paul Mar­thoz, uses case studies and a heavy dose of history to examine media cov­erage of terrorism.
The first chapter explores the differ­ent forms of terrorism and provides a list of terrorist organizations.
Marthoz makes two important points: “Religiously-inspired terrorism attracts the most attention, and partic­ularly attacks instigated by organiza­tions claiming to follow Islam, which generate the widest media coverage.”
Additionally, media often fail to re­port that “these violent actions often strike Muslim-dominant populations, either directly, as in Iraq and Syria, or indirectly.” He notes Muslims were among victims in the Brussels bomb­ings of March 2016 and a few months later in the Nice, France attack.
Certain questions come to mind: How thoroughly do news organiza­tions cover cyberterrorism, gang­ster terrorism and narco-terrorism? How do journalists avoid clichés or stereotypes when reporting on terror groups? When is it appropriate to use the labels terrorist, jihadist or com­batant?
Chapter 5 takes readers into un­chartered territory: How to interact with terrorist groups, including vis­iting areas they control, interviewing them face to face, reporting on ongo­ing investigations and covering trials of those charged with crimes.
How do news managers decide whether to pursue or publish inter­views with terrorists?
The handbook lists basic rules. Among them:
Remain completely in control of the journalistic mission, and refuse any limits on questioning that the ter­rorist group would like to set.
Favor a documentary format over a conventional question-and-answer in­terview, which provides less scope for the introduction of context, complex­ity or corrections to the statements of the interviewees.
Clearly and transparently explain to the public the reasons for which the in­terview was requested and the condi­tions in which it was conducted.
Correct the false or fallacious state­ments that may have been uttered by the interviewees and give voice to the other players involved (authorities, vic­tims, etc.)
Chapter 6 explores safety issues and increasing risks journalists face from executions, kidnappings and hacking of their cellphones and laptops. “To­day, terrorist hostility towards jour­nalists has become the norm,” writes Marthoz. There is a link to the updat­ed version of Reporters Without Bor­ders’ “Safety Guidelines for Journalists” in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
In the foreword, Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s assistant director-gener­al for communication and informa­tion, describes what media should – and should not – do in the wake of a terrorist event.
[Media] must keep a global perspec­tive, and pay attention to the words they use, the examples they cite, and the images they display.
They must avoid speculation and finger-pointing in the immediate con­fusion following an attack when noth­ing is known, yet the demand for infor­mation is perhaps the strongest of all.
They must consider carefully the fact that there is something inherent in terrorism as a violent act that pro­vokes a fear in many that is far dispro­portionate to the actual level of risk.
They must do all of this while ensur­ing they don’t put themselves or their staff in harm’s way in the pursuit of a story.
And most of all, they must avoid fos­tering division, hatred and radicaliza­tion at both margins of society.
The handbook is available in Eng­lish and French. (Culled from the in­ternational journalists’ network, ijnet)- The Authority

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