Most mainstream media outlets in France have started to observe a norm that they will refrain from publishing images or the names of attackers in terrorist incidents. Politicians in France are considering whether to make this law.
The motive of the proposal is to prevent glorification of attackers. Attackers, like the one in Munich, have been found to have an obsession with mass shootings. The new law is to prevent the attackers being made into “superstars” and to show more focus on the victims. Attackers want to be remembered for what they have done, the law will somewhat deny them of this.
So, should the UK follow suit? The law would want to prevent the identity of the attacker being readily available to prevent any legacy from their name. This is a persuasive argument when considering that there are not many people that don’t know who the attacker Anders Breivik is. The police found evidence to suggest the Munich attacker was influenced by him too, so the law has both a political and security dimension.
While the advantage is clear, it is doubtful ignorance of previous perpetrators would have deterred the Munich attacker. Although the glorification argument still stands, the negatives far outweigh the positives in implementing this as law. The background and lives of the attackers would be less accessible. Many articles of late have been drawing parallels between the lives and values of each attacker besides their religion. These comparisons are important in finding the roots of terrorism. Hindering the ability to acquire the attacker’s identity would make it harder to find and study such details about their lives. This will lead to only being able to report more general information, such as religion and nationality. This situation will further fuel the generalisation that Islam is inherently violent, which is obviously untrue. However, this narrative is perpetuated by the focus on the recent attacks and the constant references to Islam when reporting them.
Glorification could instead be avoided by the responsibility of media outlets to focus less on the attacks and more on the victims, similar to the norm in France. Attackers such as Breivick have been made household names due to obsessive reporting on them. Every now and then, articles about him appear updating us on what he is doing in prison and reminding us of the attack. To decrease this effect, media outlets should instead seek to report in less quantity on the attackers but still include all the details of their lives. The ambition to shift more focus over to the victims can be done by media outlets without a new law. To miss out on the details of the attacker would be foolish as it can provide vital insights to politicians and the public alike as to why the attacks happen.
Instead of an outright ban, we should have a norm that we should not focus on the attackers as much, but at the same time let us not inhibit ourselves from investigating what causes the attacks.