New UNESCO handbook encourages media reflection on terrorism coverage

news_030217_handbook.jpg

© Aija Lehtonen / Shutterstock, Inc.
03 February 2017

As many countries around the world grapple with the terrible violence wrought by terrorist attacks by a range of actors, it is important to reflect on how the media has responded to the crisis.

If, in the words of famed publisher Katherine Graham, “news is the lifeblood of liberty,” how can media coverage provide credible and verifiable information, and avoid exacerbating an already tense climate of fear and suspicion?

It is in this context that UNESCO launched Thursday at the Press Club Brussels Europe in Belgium a publication entitled “Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists”. The booklet lays out a framework for media coverage that highlights pitfalls and urges reportage that is free from sensationalism and fear-mongering.

The event was opened by Guy Berger, Director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, who expressed the Organization’s concerns about violent attacks on civilians and journalists. “This is a subject that goes to the heart of journalism,” he said, “a calling that is even more important in times of violent attack, when the public need to know who to trust for independent information and analysis.”

The publication’s author, journalist and media commentator Jean-Paul Marthoz, specified that the handbook is not designed to be a “sacred text.” “The goal is to draw lessons about coverage of terrorism to date; to provoke a conversation between journalists.” He noted that the booklet could also be a resource in dialogue with security forces about media issues.

“This handbook comes at a crucial moment, with the world confronted by a scourge of terrorism without religion or nationality,” said Ambassador Hadiatou Sow, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the European Union. Noting that her organization condemns terrorism in all of its forms, she added that “generalisation breeds intolerance, and intolerance breeds terrorism. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken through dialogue and mutual respect.”

Ricardo Gutierrez, the Secretary-General of the European Federation of Journalists commended the booklet and its value to all journalists globally, who should not wait until a crisis hits in order to know how they should respond.

Developed specifically for reporters, media professionals and journalism students, the “Terrorism and the Media” handbook aims to encourage reflection about some of the ethical and journalistic challenges they must navigate in this field of coverage.

Topics covered include the journalistic “framing” of terrorism; the balance between freedom, security and responsibility; the handling of figures, images and words; the security of journalists; and relations with victims, authorities and terrorist groups.

An electronic version of the handbook is available online here.

Read the remarks delivered by Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO during the launch of the publication.

Read more about UNESCO's work on Media in Crisis and Disaster Situations.