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U. debates mainstream media's role in covering terrorism


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SALT LAKE CITY — Videos of beheadings and other callous murders of innocent people by terrorist groups are becoming more frequent. Those graphic videos are available on the Internet, but traditional news organizations don’t show them.

This was a topic of discussion at University of Utah Thursday regarding the ethical complications of covering stories about modern-day terrorism.

Journalism students heard from Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor and terrorism expert, and Bill Warren, chief marketing and communications officer at the U.

“I think the failure to show those images just speaks to a larger issue on not addressing the topics head on,” Warren said. Guiora added, “I'm not sure what mainstream media is today and I'm not sure of the role of mainstream media today in the context of terrorism, especially from the perspective of ISIS, which uses social media so effectively.”

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France, traditional news outlets did not show images of the controversial political cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that led to the shootings. Recent ISIS videos, showing beheadings and the burning death of a Jordanian pilot, also were not seen, except on various websites.

Guiora and Warren wonder, should the mainstream media, including KSL, Deseret News, PBS and others, be willing to go further to put into context what terrorist organizations are doing, including showing these videos. People are finding them online anyway.

“I do believe there's a difference of forcing these things on people and making them accessible,” Warren said. “There are all sorts of ways to making it accessible and not be on the 6 o’clock news or running a continuous loop on CNN.” And Guiora added, “I do believe that the public needs to know. I’m a firm believer in that.”

Although the videos are gruesome, Guiora said mainstream media can certainly add context and depth to these situations. “If you post it, you could also have a piece or interview or article. So you are showing it (video) but also engaging the public, having them think based on what you're contributing to the debate.”

That will be a discussion that will continue in newsrooms and journalism classes in the future.

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Keith McCord

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