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Coverage of the Paris attacks highlights a need for a new maturity from the world's media


By Stephen Lepitak | -

November 15, 2015 | 4 min read

If Friday night's attack in Paris which Isis has claimed responsibility for told the world anything, it was that there was a new strategy being adopted when it came to mass carnage being carried out by the so called Islamic Army. And from the moment the first attack began, reports hit TV and social media channels and played out overnight live around the world.

The media too are maturing in their ability to report – with more platforms than ever available – and have begun to look to social journalists to help inform reporting of real-time events on the ground of an unfolding situation – whether the information is reliable or not.

During the events in Paris I watched and listened to several news broadcasters: BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox and Radio5 Live. All the while updates poured in on websites and Twitter, Vine, Periscope and email. There was no shortage of information being spread around the world.

One message on Twitter I spotted highlighted a European media organisation's request to someone tweeting from one of the attacked areas of Paris asking if they could use their pictures and if they had any of bodies of the victims. You can imagine the furious response that request generated and rightly so.

Ironically in news reporting it's sometimes easy when under pressure to report unfolding drama to forget about reality – in retrospect the request will likely weigh on that person's conscience for a long time to come.

This morning's Mail on Sunday splash attempting to blame the refugee crisis for the atrocities is not intelligent reporting and in some ways oversimplifies the border control issue that Europe faces. It also plays into the media plan of ISIS – and be in no doubt, that has matured greatly as well.

Reports that the attackers were found with passports was premeditated to generate such reports – ISIS wants those who have fled Syria for Europe to come under suspicion.

The Sunday Herald in Scotland is also currently causing controversy with its graphic front page splash featuring the horror from one of the scenes which is going to take a lot of justification. However it could argue that the now world famous image of the drowned Syrian boy washed up on a beach was run internationally for the same reason – to highlight the horror of a situation out of control.

Sky News this morning has broadcast a video of the moment the Bataclan concert hall came under attack which feels ghoulish and unnecessary too.

We in the press don't do ourselves many favours when it comes to seeming like real people. But perhaps we shouldn't; this is an unflinching story to cover – it cannot be made any better by denying the graphic details.

Everything that unfolded on Friday night will have been considered with media coverage and reaction in mind – that's what spreads the fear terrorists want to generate.

So while media have a responsibility to report, that is not in question, it's also time to look at just how these situations are broadcast live because as we saw with the broadcast of the beheading videos, coverage of these atrocities is what ISIS covets.

Coincidentally I believe, the attacks knocked off coverage of the reported killing of 'Jihadi John' from Saturday morning's front pages – which would have been a damaging blow to the ISIS media strategy, as he proved a figurehead for striking fear into the minds of the western world.

Media coverage was not quite celebratory of his death, but it was reported as a small victory in this war for the west. That will only spur on further intolerable cruelties – I don't believe media reports should motivate terrorists. But that's a tough line to walk.

So while we have many different ways to reach our audiences, it's important journalists bear in mind one obvious fact: we're being manipulated. Think about how as it's important to the duty of responsible reporting in this matter.

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum

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