Terror attacks in Spain

Barcelona, Charlottesville: are Islamic State and white nationalists getting a boost as news networks chase ratings?

Brooke Richter calls on channels covering the violence in graphic detail to review their role, as unlimited airtime is giving terrorists and bigots a greater reach and voice than they warrant in a civilised society

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 11:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 7:17pm

As graphic images of yet another terror attack – this time in Barcelona – flash across the television screen, I’m compelled to ask: could the rise in terrorist organisations and plots be linked to the 24-hour news cycle?

Each time a van mows down pedestrians, or white supremacists march down the street, cable news channels inundate the public with all the lurid details, replaying graphic video imagery that often includes the very slogans these organisations are bent on voicing.

When cable news repeatedly shows footage of white nationalists descending on Charlottesville, are they not giving these bigots exactly what they want – free advertising and mass dissemination of their ugly message? Are they not giving Islamic State, al-Qaeda or other militant groups a far greater voice and suggestion of relevance than they warrant in a civilised society?

The way these events are covered today effectively glorifies the actions and belief systems of disturbed individuals, giving the leaders of these organisations exactly what they want – airtime.

Civilised people want our cities to be safe. We want our children to be able to attend concerts without fear of being blown apart. We want our teenagers and young adults to engage in discourse on topics of controversy, be it the value of Confederate statues or abortion, without fear of being lynched. We want to be able to take a stroll or sit at a café in vibrant locations that attract visitors from around the world, without having to constantly look over our shoulder.

These desires seem increasingly out of reach and, what’s more, we are becoming desensitised to the blood, gore and vitriol. One dead, 80 wounded; 13 dead, more than 100 in critical condition. It’s an unending stream of numbers about the thing we most value in the world – life – and yet we are fast becoming numb to the rampant, violent taking of it by extremists, fascists and jihadists.

Cable news organisations need to revisit their role and consider whether, in their quest for ratings and coverage, they are complicit in undermining the safety of people around the world. Let’s stop giving airtime to causes and individuals that don’t deserve our attention.

Let’s stop giving a platform for evil to extend from Afghanistan and other war-torn countries to the rest of the globe. Let’s alter the trajectory of violence, by making hard choices about the ways in which new organisations present violent assaults against civilised people. It’s time to knock the terrorists off the media stage, before the next person is killed for doing nothing more than walking down the street.

Brooke Richter received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Hong Kong in 2011 and now writes fiction. She is currently vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Writers Circle and editor of AWAre Magazine