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|| UN Chief Asks Media to Shun 'Terrorists'|
By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service
United Nations, 05 May, (IPS):
The United Nations is willing to convene an international conference to
formulate ethical guidelines for journalists covering one of the most
politically sensitive issues in the world body: terrorism.
Implicitly calling for a virtual ban on interviewing terrorists, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that both civil society and mass
media should play a prominent role in countering "hyper-nationalistic
and xenophobic messages that glorify mass murder and martyrdom".
In a new 32-page report on terrorism released here Tuesday, he said the
news media may wish to study the experiences of countries that have
adopted voluntary codes of conduct for journalists covering terrorism,
including, for example, bans on interviewing terrorists.
The study, which was requested by some 150 world leaders at the U.N.
World Summit last September, will go before the 191-member General
Assembly on May 11.
The United Nations, Annan said, stands ready to work with journalists'
associations and press freedom groups on this specific issue, including
by convening ...
an international conference, if so desired.
Last month, news media the world over ran statements and videos by
Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, each with
a price on their heads.
The United States has offered over 50 million dollars for the capture
of the three -- dead or alive. But all have received considerable play
both in the print and electronic media -- particularly in the Middle
The Bush administration has singled out Bin Laden as the prime
architect of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sep. 11
2001. Al-Zawahiri has been described as a second-in-command to Bin
Laden, while al-Zarqawi is leading the current anti-U.S. insurgency in
"In Britain, the government banned broadcast interviews with members of
the Irish Republican Army (IRA) -- and ended up negotiating with them,"
says Ian Williams, U.N. correspondent for The Nation, columnist for
Maxims News and the Deadline Pundit blogger.
"While I was president of the U.N. Correspondents' Association, we
invited Sinn Fein leaders to speak as a protest against such forms of
censorship," he said. From China, to Uzbekistan to Washington,
governments brand their opponents as terrorists.
"In Israel, a government whose political predecessors practiced random
bombings and massacres of Arabs under the U.N. mandate, and
assassinations of British officials during the war against the Nazis,
now says that no one should talk to an elected 'terrorist' government
of the Palestinian Authority," Williams told IPS. And it does so while
shelling packed civilian areas in Gaza.
"Freedom of information is far too important to risk for expedient or
hysterical definitions by officials of any government. A journalists'
duty is to ask hard and searching questions of any political actor,
whether 'freedom fighter', 'terrorist', elected representative, or
self-appointed tyrant," said Williams.
On the question of an international conference, he said that such a
meeting would be useful -- but no government can be trusted to control
information, or to dictate what or who the media show.
In his study, Annan said that "just as the media cycle is exploited by
terrorists every day, we need to take on the challenge to match their
narrative of hate with the narrative of victims; the narrative of
communities divided and broken by terrorist acts; the narrative of
courage of those who risk their lives going about their daily business;
the narrative of values for which the United Nations stands."
Tony Jenkins, U.S. Correspondent for the Expresso of Lisbon and also a
former president of the U.N. Correspondents Association, told IPS: "I
don't have a problem with ethical guidelines per se. But the thorny old
issues remain: who gets to define who is a terrorist? Whose ethics?"
He pointed out that the "recent cartoons fiasco taught us a lesson". In
Denmark, he said, the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad might by some
standards have been tasteless and or insensitive, but they were not
unethical. On the other hand, they were clearly deemed unethical by a
majority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.
"Worse, I think the emphasis is misplaced. You cannot censor your way
to victory in the campaign against those who use terrorist methods.
Rather than shutting Bin Laden up, expose him all the more. Defeat his
ideas," said Jenkins.
Any good journalist in the field would die to interview an Osama --
often, they literally do, he said. And if he or she is a good
journalist, Bin Laden and his views would be exposed for everyone to
judge, as U.S. television journalist Peter Arnett proved.
"That is what the media do. We've had too much censorship, not too
little, especially self-censorship. There's been too much media
kowtowing to the powers that be, not too little, as the White House
press corps has proved to everyone's detriment," Jenkins added.
Perhaps the secretary-general, he said, could instead use the occasion
of World Press Freedom Day Wednesday to do something to help ensure
that 63 journalists and five media assistants are not killed this year
as they were in 2005.
"Or perhaps he could do something about the 120 journalists who are currently in prison for exercising their profession?"
One of the two worst offenders, China, is a permanent member of the
Security Council (Cuba is the other, according to some watchdog
groups). "In Russia, another permanent member, we have also seen the
media come under assault and outright control by the government," he
Jenkins said the United Nations is custodian of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which is freedom of the
press. If ever there was a time and a day to speak truth to power,
today is it, he added.
In his study, Annan also said the new breed of terrorists rely on communication to build support and recruit members.
"We must deny them this access, particularly by countering their use of
the Internet -- a rapidly growing vehicle for terrorist recruitment and
dissemination of information and propaganda."
In 1998, according to the report, there were fewer than 20 "terrorist
websites" on the Internet. By 2005, that number was estimated to have
surged into the thousands.
"Indeed, it seems that some major recent attacks drew support from content on the Internet," Annan said.
"Terrorists take advantage of differences in national responses -- if
blocked from operating in one state, they can simply relocate to
another. In this way, Internet can become a virtually safe haven that
defies national borders," the secretary-general warned.
In an implicit reference to the United States -- which has justified
the suspension of civil liberties and rule of law in the name of
fighting terrorism -- Annan said the international community "should
not sacrifice its values and lower its standards to those of the
The United States has come under heavy fire for the treatment of
suspected terrorists at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility
At the same time, U.S. soldiers have been accused of torturing and
humiliating terror suspects in the Abu Ghraib prison outside the Iraqi
capital of Baghdad and the Baghram airbase in Afghanistan. The
mistreatment of suspects is also a violation of the Fourth Geneva
Conventions which govern the treatment of prisoners of war.
Annan said that international cooperation to fight terrorism must be
conducted in full conformity with international law, "including the
charter of the United Nations and relevant international conventions
He pointed out that when human rights are abused as part of a campaign
against terrorism, terrorists exploit the abuse to mobilise recruits
and seek to further justify their actions.
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