Media coverage of terrorist acts: French CSA adopts Code of conduct

by Eric Munch (Observer) posted on 03 November, 2016   (public)

Media coverage of terrorist acts: French CSA adopts Code of conduct

In response to the repeated terrorist attacks that shook France since the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, the legislator (through Article 20 of Law n°2016-987 of 21 July 2016 prorogating the application of the law from 3 April 1955 on the state of emergency and establishing measures of reinforcement in the fight against terrorism) had requested that the French CSA develops a deontological code on the audiovisual coverage of terrorist acts.

On 20 October 2016, the CSA adopted a text entitled "Precautions concerning the audiovisual coverage of terrorist acts". This code of conduct is the result of several meetings with representatives of broadcasters, journalists, experts, professional organisations, victims' representatives and the public prosecutor in Paris.

The code focused on the questions raised by the media coverage of terrorist acts that cannot be answered by general mandatory rules, given the variety of situations encountered and aims to provide media professionals with tools to act appropriately.

While it has no binding character, the aim of this Code of good conduct is to allow the media to better reconcile the right to free information with the public interest (which inter alia includes the protection of the investigation and the protection of victims).

In particular, the code stresses the importance of the following points:

  • The careful phrasing of the events described, so as not to influence the public's perception
  • Being careful not to broadcast unverified information
  • Measuring the value of immediate on-site testimonies: provide context, stop broadcasting if they prove wrong or correct false information immediately
  • Not broadcasting pictures of the attack's perpetrators in glorifying poses in order not to serve as propaganda for the terrorists
  • Selecting and presenting the interviewed experts adequatly, informing on their backgrounds and potential vested interest
  • Covering the event as responsibly as possible especially in the case of live coverage, since the perpetrators themselves may be watching

The code is meant to evolve, should media practices require it.

Source: Website of French CSA