Covering violent extremism in the media is not business as usual. Terrorism seeks to spread panic and terror as an act of violence and an act of communication.
In covering issues related to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE), the media can play both a positive and a negative role. The way P/CVE-related issues or incidents are reported in the media has a profound impact on community dynamics, public safety, and P/CVE efforts.
Biased news reporting can split communities, promote intolerance, and hatred, and reinforce or exacerbate factors that are conducive to terrorist radicalization. Responsible reporting can support P/CVE efforts by educating the public on the reasons why terrorism emerges and what makes individuals vulnerable to violent extremist groups.
To be in a position and be able to inform the public about violent extremism while not endangering national security, professional journalists need adequate information, expert analysis, knowledge about illegal groups operating in a region, and knowledge about international human rights commitments and related national laws.
Reporting on a sensitive subject such as violent extremism requires a heightened awareness of the laws on the right to privacy and presumption of innocence. Journalists should always conduct themselves ethically and with integrity and professionalism. They should also be given adequate protection and a guarantee of personal safety.
Reporters and media associations can use their technical expertise to train civil society actors on developing and disseminating impactful alternative narratives and counter-narratives, information campaigns, and culturally sensitive/CVE materials. They can also provide space for positive community-led messaging.
Capacity-building efforts for media practitioners could help build knowledge of core P/CVE principles and terminology, provide practical guidance on how to avoid indirectly promoting violent extremist imagery, avoid using provocative language, and avoid stigmatizing ethnic or religious communities.
There is much convergence of interest between the media and the government when it comes to covering issues related to violent extremism. Both entities are interested in informing the public, and both have the responsibility to keep the public safe and calm and not let terrorists manipulate information.
Media and government ought to understand the interests, dilemmas, and limitations of the other in order to find areas of win-win cooperation. While media organizations may seek to be free of government control, they should behave responsibly and ethically in order not to jeopardize national security. Governments may seek to control information, but they need to partner with the media to reach out to the public in order to inform, warn and protect the citizens.
Ruth Gathuri is Assistant Advocacy and Communication at Epuka Ugaidi Organization.