After a spate of violent attacks in France, several French media organizations have vowed to no longer publish the names or images of terrorists.
In an editorial published yesterday (July 27), after the killing of a priest by knife-wielding men in a Normandy church, newspaper Le Monde said (link in French) that it would stop publishing images of perpetrators. The paper said the decision was necessary to defeat the “strategy of hatred” facing France.
Following the attack in Nice, we will no longer publish photographs of the perpetrators of killings, to avoid possible effects of posthumous glorification.
Catholic newspaper La Croix and rolling news channel BFM-TV have said they will do the same. Speaking to AFP, BFM-TV’s editorial director Herve Beroud said the station would no longer show images of the terrorists “until further notice.”
“Photographs are very symbolic… and are shown repeatedly. They tend to put the terrorists and the victims on the same level,” he told AFP.
BFM-TV will, however, continue to name perpetrators of terror attacks. “The difficulty of this debate is that we have to guard against not informing people,” Beroud said.
Speaking to Britain’s Channel 4 News, editor-in-chief of radio station Europe 1, Nicolas Escoulan, said he decided “it was enough” after the attack in Normandy. In addition to not publishing photos of the perpetrators online, his station would also no longer name them.
“I decided that giving their name was a way to glorify their act,” Escoulan said. “We can do it differently, we can present who they are, we can give a lot of information without giving their name.”
From the bombing of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 to a truck attack in Nice earlier this month, France has endured several terror attacks over the last 19 months. Balancing a realistic portrayal of the barbarism of terror with the possibility that coverage could galvanize perpetrators has been much discussed by the press in Europe, the UK and the US.
Professor Charlie Beckett, director of the media think-tank Polis at the London School of Economics, says the French media’s decision this week is “not censorship, it’s editing.” He adds:
Every day we choose not to show certain things. We do not show the dismembered bodies [after a terror attack] or people in absolute agony because it’s unbearable. We have to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is amplifying terror.
In these febrile times, there is no shame in journalists thinking about how they tell the story. They must pause and reflect more on what effect their storytelling will have.
Not all news organizations were in agreement with Le Monde. Michel Field, news director at national public broadcaster France Télévisions, said the media had a “duty to inform,” reports the Guardian. “We must resist this race towards self-censorship and grand declarations of intention,” Field said.
But for Beckett, such steps are understandable. “They’re trying to seize back the news agenda from the terrorists,” he says.