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Terrorism: reporting v publicity

Nigel Morris-Co...

Not long ago, it's hours not even a day, a man drove, at high-speed a rented van along pavements and up streets in the face of incoming traffic in Toronto, Canada.The man has been arrested and is in custody. He has been named as Alek Minassian, aged 26. Whatever Minassian's motive, one thing is clear: publicity was inevitable because the choice of weapon, the fact that it's in Canada and the fact that it took place only a few kilometres from a G7 ministers meeting convened to discuss developments in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Media has provided blanket coverage around the world. It's time to think about that.

The omnipresent mobile phone has value: immediately after the attack in Toronto, the police set up a "portal" where witnesses could upload photographs and videos that they thought might help in the investigation. No bounty is paid. Media outlets, however, do pay a bounty when they use such material - indeed, there are those who get extremely upset if their material is harvested from, e.g. Twitter, and reused by a commercial media outlet.

Whether or not the Toronto case turns out to be terrorism isn't actually the point here: the point is that the coverage of an important story has gone beyond informing the public and has become a sales tool: if you don't have the story, visitors will go elsewhere.

It is that attitude that terrorist groups exploit. They don't need to make a massive statement: media and social media do that for them.

This is not, as some alleged when Margaret Thatcher spoke of depriving terrorists of the "oxygen of publicity" at the American Bar Association in 1985, a question of censorship. It's not even self-censorship. She, quite specifically, was referring to the coverage of aircraft hi-jackings in progress and suggesting that the media exercise restraint while the event was still happening. But there was heavy censorship of the reporting of activities of terrorist groups in Northern Ireland - it was even prohibited for media to refer to leading figures by name.

That is not what should be done now.

Thatcher's "event in progress" approach does have considerable value in today's non-stop terrorism-aware news cycle. It is not to deny the right to report nor the public's right to know. It is simply this: reporting should be fair, truthful and accurate but it should not be sensational and it should not be excessive. Media should not allow itself, one might even argue should not intend, to be the tool by which terrorists leverage their efforts into a global phenomenon.

Scanning all international news channels available to me this morning, it was the only story being covered for a period of ten minutes. It's that ability to dominate the news agenda that encourages terrorists. Print and broadcast media must learn that even the most important story of the day is not the only story of the day otherwise they become complicit in the criminals that society tag as terrorists being successful.


Nigel Morris-Cotterill - www.countermoneylaundering.com.
Inter alia: author The Ten Real Life Exploits That Da'esh / ISIS use to Hack The World.

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