Nice, Paris, Istanbul, Orlando: Toxification by the Media

Published: 15 July 2016

Country: France

Nice_Attack_FrontpagesA day after several dozens of people were killed during the attack in Nice, one of the main French public television channels, France 2, apologised for its coverage during the night. TV France 2 apologised for broadcasting “shocking images and testimonies” during its special programme. “Broadcasting graphic images does not comply with the conception of information that our journalists and the whole team have,” states the French television explaining that “special circumstances led to an error in judgement”.

But “special circumstances” such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and catastrophes are part of everyday media reporting. There are many guides and ethical codes for journalists on how to report in these situations. Why then the media repeat their mistakes? Media sensationalism and journalists’ chase for information additionally sped up with unchecked facts coming sometimes from unreliable online sources, may lead to toxification of the public sphere.

The Media Diversity Institute (MDI) has summarised the most common media mistakes after the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The article “Five Media Mistakes Over Charlie Hebdo” aimed to address some ethical and professional issues related to reporting on others, especially Muslims in Europe and the US. Other organisations and media associations urge their members, but also the public, to avoid acting impulsively and to avoid spreading hate speech on social networks. In the situations such as the one after the attack in Nice, social networks are full of generalisations and stereotyping mostly of Muslims and their faith.

Analysing the US media coverage of the last night attack in Nice, Poynter reports that “the most vivid accounts included one from a restaurant owner who saw it all play outside his establishment. He told (MSNBC’s Lawrence) O’Donnell of how the driver ran over women and children and how, hours later, he was still staring at dozens of nearby bodies on the ground and awaiting inspection by forensic experts”.

Poynter raises questions about “hyperkinetic media age and the impossibility of maintaining public focus on any topic for much longer than 10 minutes”. But what is needed in the world that often finds difficult processing all the news on dead, displaced, hungry and angry people, is more responsible, professional, inclusive and ethical journalism.