Journalists have a responsibility to help the state combat terrorism. Public safety demands nothing less of journalism, insists Kawther Ayed.
Journalists and media lawyers have recently expressed concern over the new Terrorism Act being used to identify confidential sources. Under the terms of the Act, UK police will be empowered to demand that journalists reveal who their sources are, even if they had previously promised not to name them. As a journalist myself, I will shortly explain why I agree that the police should have such powers. But first I want to say something about ‘radicalisation’ – the context in which the state is granting itself more power.
Contrary to the way the word is widely used in mainstream media, the term ‘radicalisation’ should be not confined to a single religion, a single race or a single political/social stance. Instead the term is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the action or process of causing someone to adopt radical positions on political or social issues’. Seen in this light, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet in the recent evolution of term, it has been used only negatively and in respect of just one group of people – Muslims.
But the fact remains, there are some things that must be brought to the the attention of the police because it is in the public interest not to risk the consequences of keeping them concealed.
In my judgement, this includes the identity of British jihadis interviewed by journalists, or anyone else with a reservoir of information about ISIS; and the same goes for anyone previously affiliated to hardline racist groups, for example.
Imagine how much more the police could do to combat these problems, if they had access to the information which is known to such people.
Many will agree with me that sources such as these must be identified to the authorities, so that the community can effectively counter the effects of dangerous ideologies.
In my humble opinion, this approach is more effective than other governmental strategies such as Prevent or the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill which instead urge teachers to spy on their pupils, no matter how young.
Bearing in mind that ISIS has used social media to become the biggest terrorist threat to Britons in 2015, it seems only appropriate that the media should play a central role in countering this threat.
As a journalist committed to journalistic ethics, I stand with any police department or security strategy that aims to seek out and reveal sources linked to a threat to the country.
In my opinion, journalists have a much bigger role than just to ‘get the story,’ regardless of the threat any of their contacts may pose to the public.
When the quest to ‘get the story’ is allowed to override all other considerations, in failing to consider public safety journalism only cheapens itself. It may temporarily attract viewers/readers, but the long-term effect is that people will question such journalism due to poor judgement on the part of those who produced it.
Let’s do all that we can to overcome the dangers of radicalisation, even if it means a breach of confidence. As journalists, we have to choose between a short-term attitude that is only interested in maximising immediate page views, and a responsible approach that gradually but surely gains loyal viewers, listeners and readers.
It’s obvious to me which is the right choice.