Let us first go beyond the term ‘terrorism’

The term is used to condemn the violence we reject, not all forms of violence

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Le Monde and other French media outlets have decided to no longer publish photos of terrorists, because they want to deprive terrorist organizations of the potential effect of glorification. This means if an attack similar to those in Nice and Rouen happens, photos of the perpetrators will not be published, and we will not know much about what led them to commit atrocities.

Is it really possible to no longer publish photos and biographies of perpetrators, particularly in our open world where photos and information are circulated by smart phones before they are broadcast and published by media outlets? Such a decision may have been up for discussion 10 years ago, but in today’s world it seems like surrender to the massive chaos of information via social media.

These statements are not targeted against the seriousness of the decision, which many French media outlets have rejected and deemed useless. The central problem is how the media should deal with these attacks. This discussion will not be set right before we finalize our stance on the term “terrorism,” and on the repercussions of the media’s stances on perpetrators and approach toward them.

Double standard

Terrorism has dozens of definitions. The term is used to condemn the violence we reject, not all forms of violence. When people who belong to a group we disagree with are murdered, it is not always viewed as terrorism. There are endless examples of this in the Middle East, but this double standard also exists in the West, including France.

The term is used to condemn the violence we reject, not all forms of violence. When people who belong to a group we disagree with are murdered, it is not always viewed as terrorism

Diana Moukalled

Horrific crimes must be condemned, but describing them as terrorism while excluding what certain military forces are doing is unjust. Are coalition airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians in Manbij, Syria, less horrific than the murder of civilians in Nice or elsewhere? Is the massacre that Satoshi Uematsu committed in Japan, where he killed 18 patients in their sleep in a care home, a terrorist attack?

Perhaps the media should stop using the word terrorism, because it has been horrifically misused to distort and manipulate the truth. The term has even been exploited to present biased stances to the public, instead of providing information about an incident itself. Any act of murder is terrorism, regardless of the aims and cause of the murderer. Therefore, the media’s handling of any crime must be based on the same principle.

Getting to know Uematsu is as important as getting to know Adel Kermiche, who killed the priest in France. Their biographies and experiences are necessary for public opinion and decision-makers, as they provide knowledge that helps us understand how to prevent similar crimes. Knowledge and a calm approach can clarify what is going on.

Accuracy and attention when broadcasting sensitive news does not mean the media should present the audience with what it wants to hear - by doing so, we would end up with an incomplete, inaccurate and misleading story.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 25, 2016.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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