A Handbook for Journalists

When terrorism hits, recall:

The Basics

– Naming is, to a certain extent, choosing a side
– Terrorism has no official definition
– There is a crucial difference between terrorism and resistance
State terrorism exists, and is “a form of government”
– “Glorification of terrorism” is an expression to be carefully defined
– Not all terrorism is religiously-inspired
– Establish and report the facts, without stereotype or generalisation
Lists of terrorist organizations are a useful (but politically-suspect) tool
– “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter”

The Front Line

– Provide clear, precise, rapid and responsible information
– Affirm the duty to inform
– To explain is not to justify
– Keep a critical distance
– Take into account the impact of information on dignity and security
– Carefully navigate relations with authorities
– Control the “framing” of terrorism
– Be wary of unsupported theories, peremptory judgements and pre-held biases
– Evaluate anti-terrorism in the context of international human rights law
– Avoid fostering fear
– Adopt a pluralistic, balanced and inclusive vision of information
– Consider terrorism, however targeted, as an attack against everyone
– Think globally and avoid “information nationalism

The Ground Rules

– Take note of media blackouts during security operations
– Source information and qualify informants
– Correct any errors immediately and visibly
– Be cautious about leaks and confidential sources
– Explain why anonymity has been granted to a source
– Make use of experts, but exercise caution
– Keep a sense of proportion
– Don’t glamorise terrorists
– Respect the dignity of victims, and particularly children
– Don’t use respect for privacy to justify obscuring the truth
– Don’t leave it to others to ‘qualify’ an act or group
– Avoid a moralist ideological approach that blurs reality
– Remember that not all words – jihadism, war – can be used objectively
– Take figures and polls with a grain of salt
– Publish essential images without resorting to sensationalism
– Be careful publishing images of onlookers
– Check the veracity of images before publishing
– Avoid amalgams and generalisations
– Control and deconstruct hate speech, rumours and conspiracy theories

The Role

– Don’t hinder emergency services
– Agree on clear rules for the use of live broadcasting, images, social media etc.
– Don’t interview terrorists or hostages
– Visit terrorist areas without being manipulated
– Inform on investigations without compromising them
– Cover trials without glamorisation or demonisation

Taking Stock

– After the initial emergency, review the actions of all stakeholders (authorities, emergency services, politicians, etc.)
– Objectively evaluate your own coverage before, during and after an attack.


[F.O. – adapted from UNESCO,
Terrorism and the Media:
A Handbook for Journalists
 (2017)]
Featured image: Louis M. Glackens,
The Yellow Press (2010)

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