Following a string of high-casualty attacks, a slew of French media organizations have decided to cease publishing the pictures and names of terrorists. The controversial move has been defended as an attempt to deny glorification to murderers who seek international fame.
After two militants who had pledged to ISIS murdered a French priest while he was celebrating Mass on July 26, several French news organizations have declared that they will not longer disclose the identities of suspected terrorists.
Following the terrorist attack in Nice on July 14 that left dozens dead, the French newspaper Le Monde announced that it would no longer publish the photographs of attackers. On July 27, the newspaper published an editorial urging other media to follow suit, according to The Guardian.
“The sites and newspapers that produce this information cannot excuse themselves from self-examination of several fronts,” the Le Monde editorial board wrote. “Since ISIS terrorism first appeared, Le Monde has changed its practices several times.”
The Catholic newspaper La Croix and television channel BFMTV, the French affiliate of CNN, have also chosen to withhold the identities of terrorists.
BFMTV’s decision was spurred by backlash it received from viewers when they showed a flattering image of the Nice attacker who had ran over dozens with his vehicle, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The television station committed to stop showing photographs and naming names following the murder of the priest, when the only image they were given of one of the two ISIS militants featured the attacker with a friendly smile.
“Faced with the accumulation of attacks in France, we do not want to create a rogue’s gallery of terrorists,” said deputy managing editor Alexis Delahousse of BFMTV.
Meanwhile, the French newspaper Liberation and television network France Televisions will continue to publish the names and images of terrorists, their management deeming the disclosures necessary.
Michel Field, the director of France Televisions, released a statement cautioning that withholding the names of terrorists could set a dangerous precedent for public trust.
“Anonymous attacks, with nameless and faceless perpetrators?” Field said. “Nothing could be better to activate conspiracy theories, promote social anxiety in those that already suspect the media does not tell [the truth] or wants to silence the truth.”
Charlie Beckett, the founding director of international journalism think tank Polis, believes that withholding the names and images of terrorists is understandable but perhaps ineffective.
“I can understand why a French newspaper wouldn’t want to put a great big picture of this horrible person who’s done such murderous things on its front page ... Terrorists reuse mainstream Western media in their propaganda,” Beckett told CNN.
“But in the end I don’t know if it makes a huge difference,” Beckett added.
Television anchor Mhamed Krichen of Al Jazeera Arabic takes the other view -- that journalistic ethics demand media to publish the names and photos of terrorists.
“When we publish a photo of somebody who is a terrorist or a criminal, I think that is part of our duty as journalists because the public has the right to know and to see,” Krichen said.
The television anchor added that a media blackout is “a very simplistic way of dealing with a very complicated problem.”