Can the media report on terrorism without promoting it?

The panel debate Terrorism and the Media: An Uneasy Relationship at the Bled Strategic Forum discussed various aspects of the relationship between the media and terrorist propaganda, including whether blanket bans on reports on terrorist attacks would work and who needs the other more.

Ambassador Dr Patricia Flor, Head of the Directorate-General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control at the German Federal Foreign Office, believes that the German media correctly report on the background of terrorists.

As terrorists attack our way of living and principles, and freedom of the media and expression, it would be wrong to restrict the media coverage, because this would be exactly what terrorists wanted,  Dr Flor added.

On the other hand, Senator Terry Mercer, Senate of Canada, argued that self-regulating media and accountable media should not play the terrorist game. “You should stop giving them credit, they want to be recognised, so don’t recognise them, this is what they want.“

According to Senator Mercer, one of the ways of preventing radicalisation is to stop saying that a terrorist group is taking credit for the attack, as the job of the media is to bring news, not to promote terrorists.

But Mr Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, UK, said that blanket bans created more fear and intolerance, and that terrorists had two objectives when manipulating the media – to spread fear and inspire their potential followers.

Mr White added that journalism had difficulties coping with the new media context as journalism leaned on accuracy and fact-based communication as well as impartiality, transparency and accountability.

“The media environment has changed dramatically, Facebook and Twitter are massive new players in the media, but where is the commitment to values,” he wondered.

Dr Klaus Unterberger, Head of Public Value at ORF, argued that the internet is a part of the problem. “What we are seeing is accountable media that provide some independence and quality,” said Dr Unterberger, adding that it did not make sense to criticise journalists focusing on bad news.

Prof Marko Milosavljević, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, said that there were no means to prevent broadcasting of violent attacks.

Public media should not be persuading the persuaded, but “we should be looking for people on the margins of the society” and go to the platforms where the young people are, Prof Milosavljević added.

Turning back to the media coverage of terrorism, Mr Emre Kizilkaya, Journalist and Digital News Coordinator of Hürriyet, said that terrorist organisations in Turkey actually owned media outlets.

“There are so many grey zones,”  said Mr Kizilkaya, wondering whether you should ban symbols or show IS members marching with their own flags. “Best thing to do is to stick to ethical principles, otherwise it is not journalism at all,” he concluded.