Covering terror attacks as if they were a Big Brother show

A panel of experts discussed the Dos and Don’ts when covering terror attacks on 9 April during an event as part of the tenth edition of the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.

By attempting to be “the first” to report and being under constant pressure from social media and rival media companies, journalists often report on terrorist attacks without basic ethical standards and rules in mind. However, as Richard Sambrook, director of J-School Cardiff University points out “if you are first in Rome, you are not necessarily the first”.

Sambrook emphasized the role of editorial policy which needs to be clear and understood by staff, as well as the ways for news organizations to cope in case they are the object of terror attacks.

But what is a terror attack? “The terminology used in 1980s to describe an act of terror was “political violence”, which meant an act committed by someone in order to achieve a political aim”, clarified Ibrahim Helal, editorial advisor Aljazeera Network. In his opinion, there exists a template of coverage imposed on news organizations how to cover the attack and this kind of template “kills many values in reporting and journalism”.

According to Salam Khoder, a representative of the Flair Media Consultancy, journalists’ primary duty in case of breaking news is to do their job and “just report what is happening without analyzing the situation”. However, “mistakes are constantly repeated by the media because of the pressure of competition and the desire to be the first”, adds the expert.

“We cover terror attacks as a sort of a Big Brother show”, says Lamija Aleckovic, a journalist from the Croatian public service broadcaster HRT and lays the blame partially on social networks and the way they are used by media professionals.

As Ibrahim Helal elaborates, sometimes “media participate in achieving the attackers’ aim and this is a catastrophe.” “We do it for commercial and competition reasons”, continues he and adds that “the most difficult decision is when to stop”. The problem is that media organizations are always driven by their commercial interests and they stop unethical reporting on terror attacks only “once the competitors have stopped” which often takes a long time during which the audience has already picked up the biased, unethical or sometimes wrong reporting.

By Stanislava Gaydazhieva