The Rolling News From Paris Must Stop

The Rolling News From Paris Must Stop

I was in a hotel room in Sydney when I first thought something untoward might be happening in Paris. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and I was catching up on the overnight news from Europe via Twitter when I saw the FT journalist Simon Kuper's tweet about loud bangs near the Stade de France. I didn't pay too close attention when I first saw it - after all, it's easy to assume that fireworks or a backfiring engine are much more sinister than they actually are. But it quickly became apparent that something terrible was going on, and like everyone I followed the situation with the grim preoccupation of the unharmed passer-by.

Since then, worthy others have devoted millions of words to the likely causes of the attacks, and the best intelligence, diplomatic, political, philosophical, legal and military responses to them. I don't know enough about Islam or Daesh to make any contribution in that regard - but I do know that the rolling news from Paris has to stop.

The 24-hour coverage has handed Daesh the propaganda victory it craved. Of course it wanted bodies in bags, but most of all it wanted pictures of those bodies to spread fear. The news networks have done it a huge favour by broadcasting the aftermath minute by bloody minute. Such horror already plays out on the internet -again, mostly via Twitter- these days anyway, but amplifying the terror through the megaphone of respected broadcast news plays straight into the hands of those who seek to harm us.

Secondly, this type of coverage serves no real use to anyone. The only people who needed real-time information on Friday night were the emergency services and those seeking safety. Nobody needed anchors' speculation about unfolding events and the same looping B-roll, and they have needed it even less since the attacks ended. Outside times of crisis, I imagine that only journalists and bored businessmen in hotel rooms actually watch 24-hour news, and I feel that events such as those in Paris are broadcast with a presumptuous self-justification for the other thousands of hours' tedious, rolling coverage of not very much at all.

Thirdly, rolling coverage accelerates and compresses the news cycle, putting needless pressure on politicians and the police to come with something new, or at least say something novel to satisfy them. The narrative of Daesh and its hatred of the west is only really understood by a handful of academics, diplomats and intelligence officers, and it contains nuance far too delicate to be compressed and moulded into the three-minute interview slots of rolling coverage. The police should be left to get on with their investigations rather than being continually pestered for updates on a complex and difficult situation.

Finally, it belittles newscasters. These are experienced men and women reduced to endless, dull repeats of the same tired speculation and headlines. They are forced into asking survivors of an attack like Paris 'how they are feeling'. In extreme cases, they are made to look extremely foolish as they seek new things to say about a developing situation.

I am aware of the irony of calling for less coverage of the Paris attacks from the position of a HuffPo column. But my main feeling aside from horror and sadness has been the dismay of the news coverage of Paris. Our politicians have grimly predicted that more attacks on western targets are to be expected. I hope that, when the next one comes, the news organisations may show a little more restraint.


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