Broadcasting a massacre
In March 2012, self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Merah strapped a camera to his chest before killing seven people in France. Al-Jazeera TV channel opted not to show the footage, writes Jeff Howard.
Paris, France – 19 March: Members of the Jewish community of Paris light candles on the Place de la Bastille as they take part in a silent walk in tribute to the victims of the shooting that took place in a school in Toulouse during a wake in Paris. Four people, including three children, were killed and others wounded after an armed man had opened fire in a Jewish school as parents were dropping their children off in the morning. (Photo by Franck Prevel/Getty Images)
Between 11 and 19 March 2012, a self-proclaimed jihadist and French citizen of Algerian dissent named Mohammed Merah killed seven people and injured five others in a series of attacks on French soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren in Montauban and Toulouse. On 22 March, after a protracted standoff, the French police killed Merah, who claimed to have been avenging Palestinian children and protesting France’s participation in wars on Muslims. Merah professed to have been an agent of al-Qaida, though it remains unclear whether he has ever had any official communication with terrorist organisations. A Pakistani branch of the Taliban claimed to have trained him.
Shortly after the attacks, the Arab media station Al-Jazeera received a video of the murders taken by Merah, who had a camera strapped to his chest during the shootings. Quranic verses and religious music overlaid the footage. Family members of victims requested that Al-Jazeera not air the footage, a plea reiterated by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who entreated: “I ask the managers of all television stations that might have these images not to broadcast them in any circumstances, out of respect for the victims – out of respect for the republic.” Al-Jazeera, citing its own code of ethics, decided to comply with the request, contending that the video added no new information – merely sounds of gunshots, screams, and the voices of the killer and his victims. Al-Jazeera’s code of ethics pledges that the organisation shall “[t]reat our audiences with due respect and address every issue or story with due attention to present a clear, factual and accurate picture while giving full consideration to the feelings of victims of crime, war, persecution and disaster, their relatives and our viewers, and to individual privacies and public decorum.”