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Should we cover terrorists’ news?

One cannot deny the existence of a relation between the thrill of the media, and the obsession and vanity of the terrorist killer

Mashari Althaydi

Published: Updated:

It is crucial to answer this question at this time, as it has technical, professional, political and intellectual sides. The question relates to the thorough daily media coverage of terrorists’ news, operations, backgrounds, photos and social media accounts, as well as victims’ stories, security and military emergencies, public reactions, and threats by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after every crime.

Does this round-the-clock coverage help stop terrorists’ activities or disrupt their propaganda, expansion and interaction with terrorist groups? Would it limit interaction between security forces, intelligence services and other concerned forces?

Is the media’s main responsibility to cover news that can prompt people’s attention? What can be more important for people than their security, lives and future? Would it be correct for the media to abandon what it does best, which is news coverage? These are very difficult questions.

One cannot deny the existence of a relation between the thrill of the media, and the obsession and vanity of the terrorist killer.

Mshari Al Thaydi

ISIS members are teenagers and gangsters, such as the truck driver in Nice, the killers of the French monk in his church, and the lunatic Afghan killer who committed the Orlando nightclub massacre. They do not hide their passion for news coverage. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, was following updates on his Facebook page while committing his crime.

Causal relationship

This debate is not limited to the Arab world. It is a raging controversy in the West, especially after the attacks in France and Germany. The media quoted Dr Michael Jetter, who has conducted research on all terrorist attacks worldwide since 1970, as saying: “Through the preliminary results of the research that I’ve led, I can conclude that there’s a causal relationship between media coverage and the exacerbation of terrorism.”

The controversy has been raised again with the frequency of ISIS attacks in France. What is new today is that a number of French media outlets have stopped publishing photos or names of perpetrators to avoid falling into the trap of advertising for ISIS.

The confusion between the necessities of the media and the constraints of public security and civil peace is a major dilemma. However, one cannot deny the existence of a relation between the thrill of the media, and the obsession and vanity of the terrorist killer.

This article was first published by Asharq al-Awsat on Jul. 29, 2016.
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Saudi journalist Mshari Al Thaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al Thaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.