The response to the Brussels terror attacks has once again been an overwhelming, predictable and unfortunate one. The public have responded with memes, and world leaders with solidarity. But the response from many has been one of opportunism.
Plenty of this has been from far-right pundits and trashy news outlets merely trying to capitalise on the tragedy. But academics and psychologists have hinted that our global mainstream media also has its part to play in aggravating a terrorist threat. And in the response to Tuesday’s attacks in Belgium, we see a depressingly familiar sight in more ways than the obvious one.
Though debate and revelation swarmed news networks throughout Tuesday morning, the highly politicised response from UKIP soon reached an inappropriate summit. Around the time of the second attack on the Maelbeek metro, an aide to Nigel Farage tweeted:
Rampant jihadism combined with open borders is a cocktail for disaster. #Brexit
— Michael Heaver (@Michael_Heaver) March 22, 2016
This prompted criticism immediately, most recently from David Cameron who noted how inappropriate it was to link the complex subject of immigration to the equally complex one of terror, on the day of the event.
Around an hour later, only a couple of hours after the initial explosions, UKIP MEP Mike Hookem made public a press release which stated:
This horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security.
He went on to defend himself via Twitter after a backlash, and noted that he would be giving blood later on to help victims.
It wasn’t only UKIP who used the morning’s events to immediately and explicitly further their political positions. The Canary reported on one of the first tweets to go viral this morning, just quarter of an hour after the attacks took place. The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson called Brussels the “jihadist capital of Europe” and used the tragedy to promote her support for a ‘Brexit’ in the upcoming EU referendum.
Brussels, de facto capital of the EU, is also the jihadist capital of Europe. And the Remainers dare to say we're safer in the EU! #Brexit
— Allison Pearson (@allisonpearson) March 22, 2016
There was widespread condemnation of Pearson’s comment, including from notorious Sky News reporter Kay Burley. Certainly not one to tread carefully herself, even she asked:
Maybe a little too early to make political capital from a terrorist atrocity? https://t.co/y6jJcEG7L3
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) March 22, 2016
Over in the US, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump joined in with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter to immediately respond to the news with their trademark anti-Muslim sentiment:
Dozens of ppl being carted out on stretchers from Brussels airport & on CNN they're talking @ how Belgium hasn't made Muslims feel "welcome"
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) March 22, 2016
Can we revisit Trump's proposed Muslim ban?
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) March 22, 2016
I have proven to be far more correct about terrorism than anybody- and it’s not even close. Hopefully AZ and UT will be voting for me today!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2016
Trump went as far as advocating torture in a live interview with the TODAY programme.
The mainstream media, however, are doing a much more measured job of reporting as much clear and concise information as they can. Even so, mainstream news coverage of terrorist events has been long debated and criticised. With likely the best intentions, it can be argued that the way the mainstream media responds to terror events is ‘moderate’ compared to the right-wing ‘extremism’.
Psychologists have warned against the long-standing tropes of mass murder news coverage – sirens blaring, using photographs of the killers, 24/7 rolling coverage, leading with the body count etc. – yet this banal and steadfast method of dramatic and relentless reportage continues. Current calls for media reform will eventually need to address this.
Finding consensus on how to reimagine a global media response will be more difficult.
Can the media – either individuals or global corporations – help to temper the threat of terrorism by adapting? Does it really hinder progress? The debate concerning what has been dubbed the media’s ‘theatre of terror’ rages on. In particular, questions around the specific focus on gore, numbers of casualties and death; relentless coverage sidelining any other news; a lack of political and historical context; and the murky ethics of giving terrorists the maximum exposure they desire, are not much closer to being answered than they were in the 1980s.
What is certain is that reactionaries using Twitter and other outlets to push a violent, prejudiced or self-serving agenda appear even more grotesque as the news crawl continues. They do nothing to serve the situation.
Support the campaign for media reform
Write to your MP to ask them to support media reform
Support the NUJ in helping journalists to make the media stronger
Support The Canary in providing journalism with context
Image via Technofreak/flickr
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?