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Monday 1st March 2021
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Sunday, January 31st, 2021

The Centre for Media Monitoring, which is housed at the Muslim Council for Britain, recently published a report which looks at the media reporting of terrorism. The researchers looked at the media reporting of the following terrorist attacks:

• Pittsburgh Synagogue, Pennsylvania, USA, 27 October 2018 • Thousand Oaks, California, USA 7 November 2018 • Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia, 9 November 2018 • Strasbourg, France, 11 December 2018 • Manchester Victoria Station, Manchester, UK, 31 December 2018 • Bottrop, Germany, 1 January 2019 • Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 20 January 2019 • Christchurch, New Zealand, 15 March 2019 • Hanau, Germany 19 February 2020

The researchers compared the reporting of terrorist attacks committed by Muslims and those by far-right activists. They found that in the period 2015-2019: ‘over half (51%) of individual online news pieces in 31 of the mainstream British news websites, magazines and newswires which mention the term terror, terrorism, terrorist(s) one or more times, also mention Muslim(s) and/or Islam, Islamic, Islamism or Islamist in the same piece. The equivalent total for far-right, white supremacist, right wing and neo-Nazi terrorist(s) is 6%’. There is clearly a disparity in the reporting of terrorist attacks.

In general, there was a greater willingness to attribute terrorist attacks to Muslims rather than far-right activists. However, the analysis found that standards of reporting began to improve in 2019. The detailed and robust report provides clear discrepancies in reporting of terrorist attacks by Muslims and far-right activists and this can clearly have an impact on community relations.

The reporting of terrorism and its fairness has been a matter of dispute between members of the media and the Muslim community since 9/11. However this 103 page report goes a long way to show that almost twenty years after 9/11 the media can still improve its reporting of such attacks so as to not further exacerbate tensions.  

The report ends with eleven recommendations which encourage ensuring accuracy in reporting (especially around establishing the facts of the case) and avoiding linking Islamic normative practices with terrorism.  These recommendations include:

Each publication or news provider should formulate or adopt a definition of terrorism

Care should be taken in establishing any other facts which reasonably explain the motives or actions of the perpetrator before the incident is described as terror

Make clear what is yet to be established about an incident

Avoid uncorroborated witness statements

If a narrative is created and subsequent information proves many of the pre-empted details to be untrue or inaccurate, media organisations should clarify and amend earlier mistakes

Spurious links between normative Islamic practices and the crime of terrorism should be avoided

Greater efforts should be made to present religious concepts accurately and in line with normative academic and religious scholarly works

Avoid headlining the term “Allahu Akbar” as shorthand for a terrorist attack

When possible avoid using images or republishing material which terrorists would want widely disseminated

The report is a welcome addition to the literature on the analysis of the reporting of terrorism in the media. It brings a robust and evidence-based approach to the debate.

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