French Media Debates Disseminating Terrorist Photos

Truck in Nice, France-CNN-Screen Shot 2-H 2016
Courtesy of CNN

BFMTV, France 24 and Le Monde will stop publishing photos of terrorists following attacks, while France Televsions and Agence France Presse will continue.

French media outlets have taken opposing positions on disseminating photos of terrorists as the country reels from a series of recent attacks.

Newspaper Le Monde, 24-hour news channel BFMTV said they would no longer publish the photos of terrorists, while Europe 1 radio said they would no longer say the names of the attackers on air, or publish the photos on their website. Catholic newspaper La Croix will also stop publishing photos and only publish the first names of the attackers.

France Medias Monde, parent company of news channels France 24 and radio station RFI, will also stop showing photos of the terrorists and be “extremely parsimonious in use of their names.”

National network France Televisions, news service Agence France Presse and newspaper Liberation have announced they will continue.

"Following the Nice attack, we will not publish anymore photos of the perpetrators of the killings, to avoid possible effects of posthumous glorification," said Jerome Fenoglio, editorial director of Le Monde in an op-ed published Wednesday.

Le Monde, which previously stopped publishing propaganda documents and manifestos, said it was extending its ban to photos to “avoid posthumous glorification” of terrorists. He said debates about the newspaper’s practices are ongoing and called for “introspection” throughout the French media.

Fenoglio said the newspaper would continue to report the names and information but that the photos “are not useful” to describe their actions.

BFMTV editorial director Herve Beroud said the TV channel’s decision came before Le Monde’s editorial was published.

“We took the decision yesterday not to broadcast photos of terrorists on the air until further notice,” said Beroud. He said it had been under debate for some time at the channel, but the decision was “accelerated” after the terror attack in Nice.

Much of the objection stems from a photo of Nice perpetrator Mohamed Bouhlel that was shown on television just after the Bastille Day attacks, shirtless on the beach in a sexy pose, which was shown in sharp contrast to the bodies of victims strewn in the street.

Beroud also said the channel received a photo of a “young, handsome, smiling” Adel Kermiche, perpetrator of the church murder, and decided not to publish it because it did not want to convey the wrong image. The photo later appeared in newspaper Le Parisian. BFMTV chose instead to promote the photo of the murdered priest, Jacques Hamel.

"Faced with the accumulation of attacks in France, we do not want to create a rogue's gallery of terrorists,” added Alexis Delahousse, deputy managing editor of BFMTV. He added however that the channel would do so if requested by law enforcement in the event of a search or investigation.

Agence France Presse declined to follow suit, saying their criterion “must remain the informative value of a text or an image … we do not want to deprive our customers, which can then decide to use them or not,” said director Michele Leridon.

French daily Liberation said it will continue to publish both photos and full names for the time being. “Publishing photos of the terrorists is not the same as glorifying them,” said deputy director Johan Hufnagel.

National network France Televisions will also continue to publish both the names and photos of the perpetrators. “We have not waited for the recent events to adopt an ethical and responsible course of action in the treatment of the terrorist horror,” news director Michel Field said in a statement. He said a news blackout might have a “perverse effect.”

“Anonymous attacks, with nameless and faceless perpetrators? Nothing could be better to activate conspiracy theories, promote social anxiety in those that already suspect the media does not tell [the truth] or wants to silence the truth," said Field.

The debate has been ongoing throughout French media since the 2012, when Mohamed Merah attacked French soldiers and Jewish civilians in Toulouse. Photos widely circulated at that time saw him laughing and smiling just before carrying out the attacks.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, media in France was highly criticized for broadcasting police information during ongoing investigations and actions. Several outlets were issued warnings and fines by the TV regulatory body Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA).

A group of MPs led by Geofroy Dider, a Republicain presidential primary candidate, have asked the CSA to direct networks to stop broadcasting the photos. Didier also launched an online petition that has gathered upwards of 105,000 signatures so far.

But with ISIS and other terror groups operating their own media and propaganda channels, some experts question if the ban will make any difference at all. Journalist David Thompson, author of the book The French Jihadists, does not believe such a ban will be effective. “The editorial choice designed to avoid the “star effect” will not affect the intensity of terrorism in France,” he tweeted.

However law enforcement will continue to publish the photos, which makes them immediately available for dissemination on social media.