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Media restraint Zurich daily disavows images of terrorists

French press illustrate the terror attacks in a church on July 26


One of the Switzerland’s leading newspapers has decided to follow in the path of the French press by refraining from publishing images of “bombers and gunmen”.

The Tages-Anzeiger, a national daily newspaper based in Zurich, announced on Saturday (link in German)external link that “where it is possible, we want to take our journalistic responsibility”.

As a result, it said it would no longer publish images of terrorists in the newspaper or online, or of any terrorist group’s documents. The names of terrorists will be abbreviated, it said, citing the precedent of French national daily Le Monde.

The move by the influential German-language paper mirrors recent decisions by some major French media outlets to stop publishing photos and names of terrorists – in a bid to cut off terror organisations’ lifeblood of publicity and propaganda.

French debate

Opinion in France has been divided, however, over this question of whether publishing the photos and names of terrorists plays into their hands by glorifying them.

An editorial published on Wednesday by Le Monde (link in French)external link said the newspaper will not publish pictures of jihadists who have killed French men and women because it wants “to avoid possible posthumous glorification”.

The Swiss press is already somewhat self-restrained, with some notable exceptions, a reflection perhaps of the country's strict privacy laws, traditions of secrecy, and general sense of reserve or guardedness.

The Zurich newspaper, however, invoked the names of recent attacks as a call to everyone – specially news organisations – to adopt a higher ethical stance.

"Nice, Würzburg, Munich, Ansbach: A wave of terrorist attacks and shootings rocked Europe. The atrocities call out to all of us, not just politicians and security forces,” the paper wrote.

“The media bear a special responsibility. We have a mandate to provide information and must also report serious acts of violence, illuminate the background, and show the relationships,” it explained.

"At the same time, we have to deal with the possible consequences of reporting. We must be careful not to give the bombers a stage for their propaganda and thus possibly encourage imitators.”

Europe on alert

An increase of small-scale terror attacks against so-called soft targets in Europe may be a calculation by the Islamic State and its adherents to compensate for lost territory in Syria and Iraq from its self-declared caliphate, experts say, or it may reflect a new push by radical Islam to wage war on the West.

Whatever the reason, the Tages-Anzeiger’s editorial board, as part of its considerations, said it discussed how to deal with the problem of copycat terrorists, a phenomenon it said is evidenced by research and psychologists.

In the past, it said, it sometimes withheld pictures or refrained from showing perpetrators of attacks in “heroic” poses. But with the latest wave of attacks in Europe, the paper decided these practices fall short.

“We are aware that our influence is very limited,” the paper summed up. “Even if the Tages-Anzeiger does away with photos of perpetrators, that does not make them disappear.”

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