Following a spate of terror attacks in France, several French publications and broadcasters have decided against publishing or broadcasting the names and photographs of terrorists. News media organisations are wary of their coverage leading to “posthumous glorification” of terrorists. French newspaper Le Monde and broadcaster BFM TV are among those who will adhere to the policy.
But not everyone is impressed. “In principle, I would not like the hiding of information. If they will not publish it then somebody else will. As it is, terrorists are very internet savvy these days,” said Shekhar Gupta, former Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express. Labelling the move as mere “tokenism”, Gupta stated that it won’t serve any purpose.
Similar views were put forth by Seema Mustafa, Editor-in-Chief of The Citizen. “It seems a little absurd because it is not as simple as encouraging terrorism by broadcasting or publishing certain things. It is a much deeper problem,” said Mustafa. Mustafa further termed the development as a “cosmetic” and “shallow” response from French news organisations.
Former BBC broadcaster Madhuker Upadhyay claimed that the measure is not an answer to the problem of terrorism. “In Britain, the media including the BBC decided that they will not use the voice of representatives from Sinn Féin but the pictures were shown,” said Upadhyay.
He mentioned that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) did not vanish because of the media’s approach but instead due to a political settlement. “They (terrorists) also pick areas where they will get publicity. The target groups that the terrorists want to reach out to are not very different from those of the media,” he added.
However, MK Venu felt that the initiative did make some sense. “Publicity is the oxygen of terrorism. But sometimes information like publishing photographs is vital to make the people alert,” said Venu, Founding Editor of The Wire. Talking about India, he was of the opinion that a large number of terror suspects are eventually acquitted.
Therefore, he reasoned that the media “should possibly refrain from publishing photographs” in cases wherein there is doubt regarding the complicity of the accused. Citing history, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta argued that the decision of French newspapers was reminiscent of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s intent of depriving IRA terrorists of the oxygen of publicity.
“But I have serious doubts concerning how effective this would be in the age of social media,” said Guha, Editor-in-Chief of Economic & Political Weekly. When questioned whether the recent violence in Kashmir could have been contained had the domestic media refrained from publishing photographs of Burhan Wani’s funeral, he cited lack of surety in this regard. “Social unrest in any society is triggered by a combination of reasons,” he added.