Don’t give them what they want: Terrorists should be starved of the oxygen of publicity

Wednesday 22 February 2017, 7pm | Royal Institution of Great Britain

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Don't give them what they want: Terrorists should be starved of the oxygen of publicity

Please note: this event will now be taking place on 22nd February 2017.

Why do they do it? Again and again, after every attack in Paris, Nice or Tunisia, our media react by giving the terrorists exactly what they want – maximum publicity. Of course, the public should be told that an atrocity has taken place, and the victims deserve all our sympathy. But each terrorist attack dominates the news agenda for days at a stretch. The TV networks go into overdrive, flying out their journalists to the scene of the attack and saturating their airtime with vox pop interviews and breaking news flashes. All this plays into the hands of terrorist organisations such as ISIS, allowing their killers to be glorified as ‘warriors’ in the eyes of their supporters. In addition, the wall-to-wall news coverage creates a climate of fear amongst the public and fuels the more authoritarian and xenophobic strands of our politics. And this hostility in turn boosts the numbers of disaffected young people that ISIS can recruit for their next round of attacks. We should stop giving what is effectively free publicity to terrorist groups and get things into proportion. After all, you’re more likely to fatally slip in the shower than be killed in a terrorist attack.

This is the line that will be taken by former Times editor and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins in this major debate. Opposing him will be Shiraz Maher, a leading expert on counter-terrorism. For Maher, the only way to defeat terrorism is to tackle it head on, speaking plainly about the true nature and scale of the threat. The recent wave of attacks by ISIS in Europe was just the beginning, he will argue. Over a thousand foreign fighters have recently returned from Syria to Europe, and some of them are highly likely to pose a threat to our security. The authorities and the media have a responsibility to communicate this threat to the public and reassure us that the police and security agencies are on high alert. When it comes to counter-terrorism, the police depend on information from the public about suspicious individuals. It’s vital that our media and authorities keep the public fully aware about the terrorist threat and encourage everyone to be vigilant in order to minimise the risk of further attacks.

Does publicising terrorism play into the hands of the perpetrators or does it help keep us on the alert against further attack? Join us on 22nd February 2017, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.

Speaker for the motion

Simon Jenkins

One of the UK’s leading commentators. He is a former editor of both the Evening Standard and The Times and was chairman of the National Trust from 2008 to 2014. He writes a column twice weekly for the Guardian and weekly for the London Evening Standard, and appears frequently on the BBC. He has authored numerous books on topics ranging from architecture and landscape, to history and politics.

Remaining speaker to be announced.

Speaker against the motion

Shiraz Maher

Deputy director at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College, and a prominent expert on jihadist movements. Maher is one of Britain’s foremost counter-terrorism experts. He is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and author of Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea. The BBC has described him as ‘one of the world’s leading experts on radicalisation’.

Remaining speaker to be announced.


Clarissa Ward

Award-winning senior CNN international correspondent who has reported extensively from war-torn Syria, where she has interviewed Western jihadists, witnessed mass-casualty airstrikes, and visited areas where no Western journalists dare to travel. She also reported from Paris following the November 2015 terror attacks, contributing to CNN’s recent award for Best Breaking News Coverage from the Royal Television Society.




Speakers are subject to change.