Gun Violence, Massacres, Suicide Attacks – How Terror Reporting Lacks Consistency

Where were you on September 11 2001? I recall my grown sister waking the whole house before morning and announcing they had taken down the Twin Towers. Terror ensued. I watched for weeks after as the footage rolled on, the newspapers overflowing with dusty images and harrowing stories.

On that day, terror struck with lightning force and thunderous sound ricocheting the world over. I know you remember where you were.

The weapon and the perpetrator become a single piece in a wider puzzle, each country seems to deal with terror differently.

For millennials terror holds a constant presence in our lives, from 2001 it became accepted into our daily ritual. Whether the attack was in our backyard, the streets of a major city or in the seemingly distant Middle East; terror held its own as a narrative in news.

Terror alone is just a buzzword, it conveys fear, infliction and alludes to ties to a greater cause or a certain organisation. When it is weaved into the national conflicts, to amplify struggles over political turf we see the language surrounding terror changes immensely.

Acts of violence whip news stations and newsrooms into a flurry. 24/7 rolling coverage encourages spectatorship, rewarding fear instead of fact. The weapon and the perpetrator become a single piece in a wider puzzle, each country seems to deal with differently.

The BBC governs its terrorism coverage with a strict set of guidelines describing the emotional subject as a potential avenue of misinformation. The guidelines state: “The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding… We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “insurgent”, and “militant”.”

But as the United Nations has failed to come to an agreement as to the boundaries of terrorism, a shared definition, understanding of any terrifying act is seen through a political clutter.

In Europe the overflow of refugees from conflicts in the Syria has coincided with a rise in local attacks. Germany and France in July 2016 alone have faced 10 attacks in total. Any madman with access to a weapon enters the streets and suddenly it’s a radicalised individual on a terror rampage. Media tends to isolate exactly why the perpetrator is a foreigner, their home country or country of heritage emboldened and their EU citizenship, squashed.

The recent shooting in Munich saw a mentally ill youngster who had researched Norway’s worst incidence of mass casualty and took to the streets with a weapon from the dark net. Born in Germany and raised German, the perpetrators darker complexion allowed the reporting to cover his Turkish heritage as if the cause for his violence. While the rampage in Norway just 5 years ago, wreaked more havoc the attacker is Caucasian and the discourse surrounding his insanity did not link him to foreign terror cells.

For the US terror on home soil is an act or war and the heightened surveillance since 2001 has foiled many a would be attack. Instead for a country united by freedom their division over gun laws sees mass shootings almost every few days. This sets the tone for the press coverage, in the recent Orlando nightclub shooting the gunman was linked to ISIL with frenzied haste.

So perhaps you don’t remember where you stood on Sunday when the ISIL militants bombed Kabul, Afghanistan killing 80 people.

In America the term of choice is homegrown jihadi. Before proper investigation ISIL heralded the attack, recalling this statement of support upon realising the gunman was a bisexual. His name was Omar, connoting to a hasty press outfit that this was the work of terror not a hate crime.

Australia saw this play out on centre stage last year during the Sydney Siege. A makeshift ISIL flag, a foreign name, and the threat of terror, a recipe for disaster. A deranged individual who has escaped the judicial system knows what it takes to garner attention with the Australian press. The Daily Telegraph released a 2pm edition with the brazen words “Death Cult CBD Attack” beaming from the front page.

So perhaps you don’t remember where you stood on Sunday when the ISIL militants bombed Kabul, Afghanistan killing 80 people. It trickled into news but there was no breakfast show reporter on the ground. No heartwarming drive for donations. A real act of terror dismissed as consequences of war. Occurring just far enough out of sight that it wasn’t breaking news.

The language of terror reporting creates tension and division. Working from a base of stereotypes to colour narratives and understand stories that haven’t been unravelled yet. It justifies wars in territories we don’t belong in, condones airstrikes in civilian areas and allows the government to track our every keystroke.

Terror is a feeling, of fear, of fright, of the unknown. In an attempt to make sense of violent acts we seek to categorise them, sort them and somehow rationalise the irrational. To weaponise a feeling, a religion, shows terror is not rational. It can be orchestrated or inspired, committed by an outfit or a lone assailant and we won’t be able to process it.

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