UK's head of counter-terrorism says publicity raises fear of copycat killers

Media coverage of attacks could prompt more atrocities, report reveals

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu speaks to the media outside New Scotland Yard, London, after a woman in her twenties was shot by police and four people arrested during terror raids in London and Kent.
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The UK's head of counter-terrorism has raised concerns that publicity could encourage copycat killings.

A new report examined how the media covers terrorism, in particular the live streaming of the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand in which 50 people were shot dead in two mosques.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has raised concerns about the media coverage of terrorist attacks and commissioned an independent report by the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

"After the Christchurch attack, I was very concerned about how it was reported by some media outlets," Mr Basu said on Monday at the launch of the report.

"From a personal perspective, I watched first hand the UK attacks in 2017. My mission is simple: to stop a year like 2017 ever happening again.

"The way terrorism is reported may play a role. I'm not interested in encroaching on the freedom of the press but I support any work that will minimise the harm of reporting terrorism.

"The copycat does concern me very much."

The report, Terrorism and the Mass Media, examined the role the media can play in amplifying the effects of terrorism.

Its author, Jessica White, a research fellow at the institute, concluded that there should be ethical guidelines to help the media in reporting terrorist attacks, similar to the code of practices used in reporting suicide cases.

“A symbiotic relationship exists between the media and terrorism," Ms White said.

"The key is to find a balanced approach that reduces negative impact, increases positive impact, and enshrines media independence and the public’s right to know.

"It is essential that enhanced responsible reporting guidelines and ethical practices, alongside more extensive training on the complexity of terrorism issues, informs the discourse used and the way in which journalists and editors choose to frame their reporting of terrorism."

She said it would be helpful to “reduce the reproduction of prejudicial information”.

Ms White's report did not examine the role of social media, and Mr Basu has called for more research to be done in this field.

He said there was a place online where reports could be "conspiratorial and inaccurate".

Mr Basu's force has been working with social media companies to remove terrorism-related material.