“We are not here to do the work of the terrorists for them.”

Journalists and academics describe how groups like Daesh exploit media reporting to further their narrative, and how the media can deny terrorists a voice.


The day after the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, every journalist faced a choice. Rob Irvine, Former Editor-In-Chief of the Manchester Evening News, knew that the attackers were seeking publicity and notoriety for their crimes and he chose not to play into their hands. Instead his outlet focused on the community coming together with love, not hate and celebrating the lives of those that were sadly lost in the attack.

“When a city or community comes under attack, how it responds is actually what abides in the memory.”
Rob Irvine, Former Editor-In-Chief of the Manchester Evening News

After this year’s Christchurch attacks New Zealand’s outlets faced the same choice. Richard Sutherland, then Head of Broadcast News at NewsHub, recognised that in the attack media were being used to spread their message; the response was to “calibrate coverage so as not to play into their hands”, and adopt shared editorial standards. The government also took a stand behind New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to deny the terrorist the benefits of spreading his name and ideology.

“He sought many things from his act of terror but one was notoriety; that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister

Journalist Marc Marginedas, who was once held as a hostage by Daesh, continues to urge media outlets not to “fall into the trap” of the terrorist group. Millions saw clips and stills from Daesh’s beheading videos, and interviews with Daesh terrorist fighters explaining their ideology, not through terrorist propaganda channels, but from mainstream media coverage.

“When I was in captivity I knew I was dealing with compulsive liars, we can’t deal with them as a normal [credible] source.”
Marc Marginedas, El Periodico Journalist

Academics Virginie Andre of the University of Victoria, Melbourne and Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics explain that while many outlets today are thinking carefully about responsible reporting, there is still more to be done; and when propaganda is reproduced and terrorist deeds are sensationalised, it can play into societal divisions that terrorists seek to exacerbate.

“It’s about understanding the ramifications of media coverage of terrorism and potentially what kind of real life impact it may have, on societies, on communities, on individuals and on young people.”
Dr. Virginie Andre, Victoria University.

Academics and journalists agree; when reporting on terrorism, every word matters. After every terrorist attack how we respond can make a significant difference, in amplifying or in curtailing the spread of terrorist narratives. We urge media outlets to carefully consider the impact of their reporting when talking about terrorism.

Interested in finding out more? Read more about the evidence on this issue (herehere and here) and check out our suggested terminology when talking about Daesh.

Join in the conversation online using the hashtag #WordsMatter.

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