Between Sensationalism and the Professional Norm of Objectivity

June 21, 2004 • Ethics and Quality, Specialist Journalism • by

Medienheft, June 21, 2004

RESEARCH – Abstract

Journalism in the Claws of Terror
The utilization of the media by international terrorism is a phenomenon that precedes the unprecedented terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 or the beheading of the American civilian Nicholas Berg. Terrorists had already begun employing the media as part of their communication strategy to reach as broad an audience as possible as early as the 1970s. In this context, there are a number of basic questions in journalism that must be addressed: Where do the dictates of the professional norm of objectivity end, and shock and sensationalism begin? To what degree is it possible to utilize the media in the war against terrorism? And: Would terrorism even be thinkable without the mechanisms of mass media? The fact that routine work procedures in the media are occasionally exploited to another end is evident not only in the imperative for images in TV news broadcasts, but also in the penchant for “putting a face” on a story whenever possible. This paper traces the various facets of the putative symbiosis of the media and terrorism, from the mystification of terrorist leaders through their attempts at garnering mass attention in the form of live broadcasts to the technological infrastructure. However, the Internet as a modern vehicle for the dissemination of terrorist messages appears to be breaking up this symbiotic relationship between terrorists and journalists, as the traditional media are increasingly being bypassed. To prevent inadvertently providing terrorists with a forum in the media, the author calls for greater journalistic restraint, more self-monitoring, and a heightened sense of responsibility in using images and messages of a terrorist origin.

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