Reporting on Terrorism


A terror act is an action that aims to spread terror, fear and chaos in the population. Its spread often depends on the messages and images that the media uses while covering it. Terrorism needs publicity to spread its ideology within the society. Media is one of the best means for achieving this goal. That is why they try to get into the daily agenda to spread their messages with the frame that suits them. Terrorist groups not only know how to operate necessary equipment, video cameras, sound equipment and internet, but also have vast knowledge of the media effect and techniques that they can use to attract the attention of the media. Tragedy and shocking news sell well in media, which is why there’s always the temptation to spread terrorist messages. In such cases the media is an accomplice to sharing terrorist ideas. Using media as an instrument is not the only tactic the terrorists use. Quite often the journalists themselves are the targets, they become victims, used as negotiation tools. Following rules will help the media with covering subjects affiliated with terrorism, choosing correct angles or terms.

General Principles:

  • The population has the right to receive information on terrorism and possible threats, although the media has the responsibility not to become an affiliate to spreading terrorist messages and appeals.
  • Terrorist acts and any related news should be covered accurately and fully, using related terminology and with great care.
  • Affiliating a negative action to the ethnic background or religious belief of individuals participating in it is irrelevant. Such information will only further the negative stereotypes and assist the stigmatization. Instead show the full picture and underline the fact that the religious or ethnic backgrounds have no relation to terrorism. Show expert and analyst evaluations, statistics and other related information, that will help to see the problem fully.
  • When covering terrorism related news, it’s important to maintain balance to not cause panic in the population by over-inflating the news, but so that the population still receives full information at the same time.
  • In case if the situation is escalating and there’s a chance of discrimination against any specific group, the media has to start a discussion on discrimination and the risks related to it. It’s recommended to show the examples of cooperation between opposite sides.
  • A neutral tone should be used when covering news. Avoid separating the population into “us” and “them” groups.
  • Members of a terroristic organization should not be covered as heroes. Do not attribute them features that would show them as “brave warriors”, as that may cause positive outlooks on their actions, especially in youth groups. Terrorism should be covered as a criminal act, in relation to legislation and law enforcement.
  • Big part of the coverage should not involve the leaders of terrorist organizations, their ways of life, goals and actions. This may cause a positive outlook on them.
  • Do not describe a terrorist act (suicide) in details, it should not turn into an instruction.
  • Do not cover anti-terrorist or self-defense action in detail, as that may cause a change of plans in radical groups and operation failures.
  • The population should receive information on the sources of received information. They should understand what the journalist’s information is based on.
  • Personal lives and other human rights must be kept at all times.
  • In case of spreading incorrect information, the audience must be notified of it and a correction must be issued immediately.
  • When covering subjects related to terrorism on web-pages, it is recommended to use comment moderation or turning the comment function off completely in order to avoid the intensification of radicalism.


  • When covering terrorist acts, it is important to employ a journalistic language that is free of judgement. It is better to describe the facts in a dry manner; the media should not use overly emotional words and evaluations. It is important for the term “terrorist” to be used accordingly and not become a label, which may damage the reputation of the media source.
  • It is better if the media uses more precise words to describe the event instead of “terrorist act”, for example “explosion”, “bombing”, “shooting”, “opened fire”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “assailant”, etc.
  • Journalists should make the process of perceiving information as easy as possible, thus they should not use language/terminology of other people to convey information.
  • Journalists should not substitute the word “terrorist” when it is mentioned in the quote of the respondent, it must be visible that the source is the one using the word. Journalists themselves should generally avoid using that word, not because the journalist is impartial or sympathizes with terrorism, but because it is a complex subject, with important political subtexts. When covering events like these, both sides expect that the media will be objective. The word “Terrorist”, “Terrorist organization” makes the impartiality of the media questionable.
  • Often, during explosions or other tragic events, it is very clear that it may be a terror act, but the media still should avoid the usage of that term, in order to let the audience evaluate the event for themselves. It is important for the journalist to ask themselves if using the word “terrorist” is objective, do we know for a fact that we’re dealing with terrorist? Or is it only our doubts… are we maybe making a political stance when using that word?

  • Visual materials with terrorist contents is often attractive to the media, as violence implies emotions, tragedy and attracts more attention. Which is why it’s important for the media to have information on the event depicted in the materials.
  • The Media should treat the effects of spreading terrorist video materials with high respect. Respect means to: o Not spread terrorist calls to action and aims; o Not violate the privacy of people, thus causing them more grief, especially to victims and their relatives.
  • Video materials should be edited in order to avoid the manipulation of population’s opinions.
  • The media should think through the political and ethical subtexts, that may be involved with airing such video materials. By constantly airing materials that contain violent visuals, eventually it will cause the normalization of such events in the population.
  • It is absolutely unacceptable to publish photo/video materials filmed at different time without specifying it, in order to intensify current events.
  • The media should treat materials submitted by readers or found on social media with utmost care. The origins of such materials should be checked carefully in order to avoid misinformation.

When covering topics relevant to terrorism, the media should be able to maintain a balance between:

  • Freedom of speech and giving a platform to terrorism;
  • Spreading graphic video materials and relative context;
  • Own opinions and impartiality;
  • Market demands and professional responsibility;
  • Societal pressure, that calls for action and justice, that dictates to limit actions, in order to report the whole event;
  • Showing the pluralism of opinions and maintaining a general policy against terrorism.
These are the dilemmas that a journalist will face during any specific event and they must make a corresponding decision.