The authoritarian regime, which has used terrorism as a trump card and controlled the media for this, and the atmosphere of fear and insecurity caused a Turkish journalist to leave Brazil.
We must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. It was July 15 1985, when Margaret Thatcher, then the prime minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), spoke these words in her statement at the annual American Bar Association convention held in London.
Thatcher’s speech referred to the hijacking in June of that year of a TransWorld Airlines plane en route from Cairo to San Diego, in which more than 150 passengers were taken hostage, an incident that was widely covered by the media worldwide. In this article, we have decided not to mention the name of the “terrorist group” associated with the attack, in order to maintain the coherence of our proposal.
For decades, the rhetoric expressed by the former British prime minister’s speech regarding the meaning, role and impacts of terrorism coverage in the media, especially on the understanding that media could empower the terrorists, was considered absolute truth and incontestable, which fed the academia, governments and their institutions, media outlets and the public opinion.
In recent years, however, research and studies of terrorist attacks have shown that silence could promote the escalation of more violent attacks in ways that cannot be ignored. This argument is present in the “Terrorism and the Media: a handbook for journalists”, produced by UNESCO, which mentions that media can stifle terrorism, instead of being its oxygen.
Herein lies the backbone of this article, especially when UNESCO’s handbook mentions, even modestly, that “some states have used the ‘terrorism’ argument to silence the media and bring disruptive journalists under control”. More than ever, media should also stifle and not be the oxygen to these states and their plans to silence their enemies be they journalists, intellectuals, politicians or civilians. Is the media prepared to cover press releases on terrorism delivered by these same authoritarian states against journalists, media outlets and oppo- nents?
Considering some episodes in Brazilian media, we could state that we have a long way ahead. Let us mention two cases. The first one took place in 2019, when a Turkish businessman who has lived in Brazil since 2007 and was naturalized as a Brazilian in 2016, was arrested in São Paulo because he was accused of being a terrorist by Erdogan’s administration due to his connection with the Hizmet movement. The Turkish government wanted his extradition, but Brazilian Su- preme Court refused it. Even though the media had stifled Erdogan’s strategies, the coverage could not assess and manage the risk of similar case recurrences. The second episode happened recently, in December 2021, when a press release from the Treasury Department of the United States, disseminated by the US embassies worldwide, listed the name of three small businessmen as terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda for having supported the group. Two of them are from Egypt and the other one is from Lebanon and has been living in Brazil for the past 32 years. This press release was spread and published in many media vehicles here and abroad. In some of them, the text was published without an in-depth analysis or critical thinking applied.
In the first case we mentioned, the businessman was released, and the extradition did not occur. This outcome can be considered, in part, as a result of the media coverage given, especially the work of experienced journalists that were engaged in it, and, of course, added to the pressure and strength of the Turk community in Brazil. Nevertheless, it was not enough to avoid fear in many Turkish immigrants, leading them to leave the country. Regarding the second case, the three men had to move on with their lives deeply impacted by this accusation. Their bank accounts were closed, their email addresses were cancelled, and their names were spread as terrorists and supporters in many parts of the world where the media repro- duced that press release.
Besides these two events, more cases have occurred in Brazil and the media coverage has not addressed the authoritarian regimes and their political allies that have been using terrorism to persecute their enemies and, for that, exploring the media as its partners.
Fear and the sense of insecurity led a Turkish journalist to leave Brazil. He left the country in face of the risk of, someday, having his name stated in a terrorism related press release and disseminated to and in every Brazilian media vehicle.
- *Cilene Victor, is a journalist and investigative writer. Professor at Methodista University, chairing the Humanitarian Journalism and Media Interventions research group. As a journalist she has focused on humanitarian and peace journalism, including her activities as an international envoyI ran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey , Poland, France, Belgium, Germany, Japan and Ecuador. She holds a PhD in Public Health (USP) and a post-doctoral degree in Planning and Territorial Management.
- *Lilian Sanches is a journalist and currently a Social Psychology PhD candidate. As a researcher, she has worked in the humanitarian and peace journalism field, focusing on terrorism and its media representation phenomena. She has 10+ years of professional experience, covering international affairs, economics, city management and public services. In 2019, she produced five special pieces for Jornal da Cultura as an international envoy to Iraq, Lebanon and Lebanon.