Fear mongering in the media: Berlin terror attacks

There is often a fine line between informing the public and fear mongering in the mass media, particularly in the reporting of terror attacks. But should we let this limit us?

A sense of doubt:

Having booked a trip to Berlin to welcome in the New Year, I was very excited. So, after reading about the terror attacks that took place at the Christmas market in Breitscheidplatz on the 19th December I felt both saddened for those involved and uneasy about my own travels.

Aftermath of the events from The New York Times.

Fear-provoking headlines:

I was surrounded by horrifying images and footage of the events, particularly from popular tabloids. Whilst they reported the breaking news as expected from any publication, ensuring their readers were aware of the terrible events that had taken place, the continual sequence of articles in the weeks that followed seemed not only to inform and update readers about the incident, but also heighten fear about a ‘constant’ terrorist threat.

The Sun and The Daily Mail released a series of articles, some with almost identical headlines about the increased threats over the festive period, particularly New Year’s Eve. The reports almost created a sense of anticipation, that it was inevitable another attack would occur on the night; but where or when was anybody’s guess.

‘We will make new year mayhem’- Extract from Daily Mail article.

The articles reported all aspects of the situation, from naming potential accomplices to the attacker to blaming immigration for the events. And, while it is great to be informed minute by minute about things happening all over the world, certain details do not seem useful for anything other than creating widespread panic, aiding sensationalism and dividing individuals further.

“Such detailed coverage of terrorism investigations raise concerns about whether the media goes too far in reporting police findings that may be of some help to bloodthirsty fundamentalists” — Javier Delgado Rivera.

Moving forwards:

Of course, we are correct to be cautious. I cannot deny that horrible things are happening around the world, but the way in which they are reported can easily allow a reader to get carried away with a sense of helplessness or even doom. This was certainly the case for me as I considered my options and looked at possibly cancelling my trip.

While we have the right to be informed about such situations, this kind of fear mongering hints towards ideology or fundamentalism in many cases, and things are not always exactly as they seem in writing.

I decided not to let what I had read deter me, and continued to plan my trip. Although, claiming I did so without certain media images in my mind would be a lie.

Brandenburg Gate on New Year’s eve

Not only was my time in Berlin magical but there was a sense of unity among the residents that really captured the bigger picture — a community that had been shaken but not destroyed. The city was not submerged in dread, but united in rebuilding and remaining hopeful. Seeing in 2017 surrounded by a million other people from all walks of life, dancing to Jermaine Jackson and attempting to count backwards in German were experiences that I may never have had if what I’d read in the media controlled my opinions.

So, while it is great that the mass media allows us to be constantly informed, we must always remember not to take all we read as fact and let it limit our experiences. I’m glad I didn’t!