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Ethics of Reporting Terrorism

Interview With Giovanni Tridente

ROME, FEB. 19, 2007 (Zenit) - A recently published essay on journalistic ethics in covering terrorism asserts that journalists are obliged to put events into context when reporting them.

We interviewed Giovanni Tridente, author of the essay "Attacco all'Informazione. Un Approccio Etico alla Copertura Mediatica del Terrorismo" (Attack on Reporting: An Ethical Approach to Media Coverage of Terrorism), published by Apollinare Studi.

Tridente is finishing his doctoral research on institutional communication at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Q: You ask to what point a journalist must give voice to those who foment hatred. Do you have an answer?

Tridente: A journalist takes the side of those who sow death every time he places himself in a non-critical attitude to terrorist news; when, because of sloth or supposed rules of making news, he fails to put into context the content he offers his readers; or re-transmits exactly, without a careful and documented verification of sources, and without making any cuts in communiqués or terrorists' claims. In summary, every time he puts aside a responsible attitude in his work, without taking into account the negative consequences, including psychological, to which he exposes the recipients of his work.

Q: How should terrorism be covered journalistically?

Tridente: Above all, by putting the event into context. In the case of terrorists' communiqués, they should be rewritten with a new terminology, eliminating possible messages in "combative" keys or language.

Moreover, one must place oneself on the side of the victims, diminish the violent reach of terrorist actions by avoiding sensationalism, relegating such news to inside pages, giving them very little space and favoring news that promotes an anti-terrorist conscience.

In the case of television images, the sensationalist nature of services should be played down, avoiding scenes of blood or tortured bodies.

Q: You say that it is good if the journalist trusts his own conscience, if he has the "concept of person" and "human values" very present. The problem, however, is that not all have the same concept of person and human values.

Tridente: I think we all can converge on the fact that in any realm of life we cannot speak of persons as if they were numbers or things.

History has long taught us the tragic aspect of such a mentality. The concept of person to which I am referring is that which considers the human being as an end and measure, and never as a means or instrument in the hands of the chosen few.

That is why I am in agreement with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, when it states in a document that "communication should be made by people for the benefit of the integral development of other people."

Q: You call for "correction" and responsibility. What do you understand by this?

Tridente: Above all, it is good to understand that a journalist's work does not end when the newspaper goes to the press or when the television service is broadcast. Rather, at that moment it starts. It begins when it reaches the reader's hands or the television spectator's eyes. Only then can one know if a good job has been done.

And the good job will depend on the honesty with which one has acted, if one's own actions have been considered, and if one has worked exclusively for a shared good.

This requires prudence and a sincere orientation in favor of safeguarding the rights of truth and the duties we all have to society.

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Keywords

Ethics, Terrorism, War, Islam, Tridente, Hate

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