Building peace in the minds of men and women

Terrorism and the Media

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While terrorism and violent extremism have been around in various forms for centuries, today’s media consumer could be forgiven for thinking that attacks are more frequent, widespread, and violent than at any time in recorded history. UNESCO has been active in promoting improved media coverage of terrorism and violent extremism, to provide concrete ground rules and sensitise media.

It has long been said that terrorism targets not just the direct victims of an attack, but the wider society watching – a phenomenon that predominantly plays out in the media. Attacks seem increasingly devised as staged theatrical atrocities designed to gain the widest possible global coverage. In turn, political actors are put into a position where some may engage in fear-mongering, thereby further polarising society and amplifying emotions as well as encouraging responses that violate basic human rights. This is exacerbated by the technological shifts, fragmented audiences and financial pressures that are putting an immense burden on many media organisations to attract attention at any cost and be the first to report every breaking update. These disproportionalities and imbalances must be corrected to ensure the media do not inadvertently contribute to the stigmatisation of groups, exacerbation of divisions and the fostering of irrational fears and hatred through terrorism reporting.

A handbook for journalists entitled “Terrorism and the Media” was released in early 2017, written by experienced journalist Jean-Paul Marthoz in consultation with media professionals around the world. The useful insights contained in the book have been converted into a set of training materials. Strong use will be made of real-world scenarios, visual materials and model examples for terrorism reporting to illustrate the key concepts, and the kit will be made available in both hard-copy (to be used by trainers) and an engaging online format (for end-users). On this basis, a special version is being created for journalism schools, so that the next generation of media professionals can enter the workforce with the skills needed to navigate this complex topic.