UNESCO urges journalism free from fear-mongering

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23 March 2017

London found itself in the midst of a terror attack in the afternoon of 22 March 2017, close to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. And the media is once again grappling with the challenges of covering terrorism without contributing to raising tensions, fear and intolerance.

It is in this context that UNESCO recently published “Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists”. The booklet lays out a framework for media coverage on terror attacks, urging reportage that is fact based, independent and free from sensationalism and fear-mongering.

“The key challenge for journalists is to inform with rigor and responsibility in the middle of chaos and urgency,” said Jean-Paul Marthoz, the publication’s author. “In such dramatic circumstances, journalists should be seen as trusted sources of information, able to separate facts from rumors and opinions from incendiary speech. The independent search for truth as well as the ethics of respect for the victims are crucial.”

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.” The booklet could also be a resource in dialogue with security forces about media issues.

The publication provides a step-by-step guide for both journalists who routinely cover terror attacks and for those who do not, but find themselves suddenly in the midst of one. “There were music journalists covering the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan and sports journalists covering the football game at Stade de France on 13 November 2015 during the terror attacks in Paris (France) – the one at the scene, the first to respond, may not be a specialist in terrorism,” explained Mirta Lourenço, Chief for Media Development and Society at UNESCO.

Developed specifically for reporters, media professionals and journalism students, the “Terrorism and the Media” handbook covers topics such as 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.

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.

  An electronic version of the handbook is available online here.

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