The Listening Post

Media, ‘terrorism’ and the Woolwich attack

As press coverage of the murder of a soldier in London sparked public debate, how did journalists navigate the fallout?

It was one of those images that, once you saw it, you knew it would be everywhere in news media around the world: A knife-wielding man, hands stained with blood, making a confession – that he had committed murder on a London street in an act of revenge for Muslims killed abroad. The victim, a British soldier, was hacked to death. The confession was filmed on a phone camera.

In the coming days, no one with a television, smartphone or personal computer, or who walked past a newspaper stand, could have avoided the images. The message dictated by the killer himself was printed on the front page of the Guardian: “You people will never be safe.”

In the age of YouTube and social media, perhaps it was inevitable that TV news channels would broadcast the killer’s warning, complete with his bloodstained hands and knife. But the description of the event as an act of “terror” sparked debate.

The terrorist’s raison d’etre is to spread fear, foster hatred and inspire further violence. Thanks to the media, in this case it was mission accomplished. But did the word terrorism really apply in this case? And if not, in whose interest was it that the term be used? Did the media give the story the coverage it deserved, or was that coverage irresponsible?

This week’s News Divide examines how journalists and broadcasters navigated the fallout from the Woolwich attack. We speak to Ian Burrell, media editor of the Independent; Charlie Beckett, director of the POLIS media think tank at the London School of Economics; Arun Kundnani, author of The End of Tolerance; and media lawyer, Korieh Duodu.

Our feature takes us to Cairo where the Egypt Independent newspaper has shut its doors, perhaps forever. Its owners blamed financial problems but its staff says there is more to the story. The Listening Post’s Flo Phillips reports on the demise of one of Egypt’s most respected privately-owned print publications and the fragile independence of Egyptian media.

More media news: The conflict in Syria claims the life of another reporter; press freedom activists in the US crowd fund a stenographer for the trial of Bradley Manning; and a Turkish-Armenian blogger is the latest to face jail as Ankara cracks down on blasphemy.

Our web video of the week is from singer-songwriter Austin Cunningham whose country music tribute to the Murdoch-owned Fox News focuses on the hairdos, lipstick and low-cut dresses of ‘The Girls on Fox News’ who provide the sugar-coating for the channel’s right-wing take on things.


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