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'It’s like we have media coverage ADD’: How terror attacks should be portrayed in the media

Georgia Sprivulis examines how the media responds to terror attacks.

Content warning: This article contains explicit mention of terror related violence and hate crime. This article also refers to a theory which uses Attention Deficit Disorder out of a medical context. This article does not condone referring to medical disorders in an offensive or derogatory manner, and is not intending to do so. Please read with caution.

At approximately 10.30pm on the 22nd May 2017, I was sitting in a pub with my friends in Fallowfield, a buzzing suburb predominantly inhabited by students in central Manchester. It was a Monday night, which meant 2-for-1 cocktails, and consequently the pub was packed.

8 kilometres away at Manchester Arena, pop sensation Ariana Grande was scuttling off stage, having just performed a two-hour concert to over 14,000 people. Grande was in the midst of removing her stage garb as it needed to be sent ahead to Antwerp, the next stop on her Dangerous Woman Tour. Also at Manchester Arena, 22-year-old, lone-wolf jihad soldier Salman Ramadan Abedi was loitering in the foyer. Around him, parents waited to collect their concertgoer children, as throngs of audience members filed into the foyer. At 10:33pm, Abedi detonated a homemade explosive device filled with shrapnel, killing 23 and injuring 800.

A few minutes later, my friends phone buzzed. “There’s been an explosion” he said, looking around the table. I googled “Manchester”, and the top hit was a report about a “loud bang” at the Ariana Grande concert. At this point, the news coverage was claiming they thought either a speaker had blown or one of the large balloon props Grande had on stage had burst. No recorded deaths, and officials were not assuming terror. Relaxed, my group of friends finished our drinks and meandered home at around 11:00 pm, it was a Monday night after all. Unbeknownst to us, the news coverage was updating rapidly. 7 dead, then 10, then 17. Officials were now considering terror. In a strange coincidence, Abedi’s home, where he created the explosive device, was also in Fallowfield —just a stone’s throw away from where we were in the pub that night.

As I write this, it has been nearly two years since the Manchester bombing, just five days since the news broke of the attack in Christchurch, and a few hours since I watched Hotel Mumbai, which portrays the 2008 attacks on Mumbai’s famed Taj Hotel.  In and amongst these events, there has been a plethora of global terror attacks.

On a press tour for his role in the Hotel Mumbai film, American actor Armie Hammer discusses his views on the “media coverage ADD” global citizens now have in relation to terror events. “You check your phone and it’s like there’s been a shooting in Christchurch, and then you swipe and it’s on to the next hit”. Well said Hammer. While these attacks always have a lasting effect on those who are closely related to the events, how desensitised we’ve become to the the rapid and unfocussed coverage of global atrocities rings true for a vast amount of people.

I feel this more than anybody. Prior to the Manchester bombing, which as you may have gathered, occurred while I was residing in Manchester as an exchange student, the UK had already seen three terror attacks that year. Of course I was saddened, alarmed and angered by the earlier attacks. My heart went out to the victims, their families and the officials who had risked their lives to respond to these events. But Hammer was spot-on. Just as the attacks surface on the media, a new story pops up. It may be more local, such as a murder, or it may be an article about Boko Haram abducting young girls in northern Nigeria. All of these stories are heinous, and as much as we give them all thought, I believe the “news coverage ADD’” is real. This is something I experienced on a personal level. My reactions to these horrible (but distant) atrocities did not compare to the personal distress I felt after the Manchester attack, purely because it occured in my city of residence. I recall laying in my bed, still fully clothed as I refreshed news outlets over and over again, in between fielding calls from concerned friends and family back in Australia.

I want to preface this next comment by saying that I am fully aware that nothing I felt in relation to the event could compare to what was felt by the victims’ families, the concert attendees and the attacker’s family members, who are often overlooked in these situations, particularly as most of Abedi’s family did not support his extremist beliefs.  With that being said, I was devastated by the attack. I recall looking up at the neo-gothic buildings that fill Manchester’s city center as I waited for a bus the following morning, and feeling incredibly disenfranchised. How could something like this have happened in this city? This vibrant and multicultural place which had only been my place of residence for four months at this point, yet already felt like home? How had such a dreadful attack occurred at a place where the majority of the crowd were young children? I was definitely not suffering from “news coverage ADD”. The Manchester attack was playing on a loop in my mind.

Continuing on from his discussion from “news coverage ADD”, Hammer exasperatedly questions, “what is it going to take to stop people shooting other people?”. An age old question Hammer —what can we do to appropriately respond to these sorts of events? Particularly as large portions of society are suffering from complacency in regards to world terror events, because horrendous news stories pop up every few hours?

In my opinion, the consequent rhetoric surrounding these events needs to change. We need  to celebrate the heroism, the love and the unity that communities engage in following these events. I feel strongly about this because I know that these positive responses occur. I saw it first hand in Manchester. Within minutes of the news breaking, residents were offering their homes to those stuck in the city, while hotels and fast food chains were keeping children safe and warm in the freezing climate while they tried to contact their parents. The next morning all the buses in the city center had replaced the screens which displayed their destination with ‘I <3 Manchester”. It sounds insignificant, but it definitely boosted morale.

Tattoo shops were offering bee tattoos (as the worker bee is Manchester’s symbol, circa the industrial revolution), with the profits being raised to support the victims’ families. Peaceful protests were occurring throughout the city. After a short stint back in the US to recover from the trauma, Ariana Grande returned to Manchester after just two weeks, firstly to meet the victims’ families and secondly to host and perform in the “One Love Manchester” benefit concert, raising  further funds for the British Red Cross. The true heroism and unity that Manchester was experiencing was tangible for me as a resident living and breathing it, yet really hard to put into words. The energy throughout the city was electric, Manchester was not admitting defeat.

Of course, large terror attacks do not occur without some backlash. The “Curry Mile” is a strip of restaurants and shop fronts in Manchester, most of which are owned by Muslim residents. I recall driving through the Curry Mile one day following the attack and seeing a large crowd gathered, “fuck off you Paki bastard” I heard, while seeing punches being thrown. Devastatingly, hate crime towards Muslims increased by 36% in the weeks following the event, and it was awful to see an innocent community be attacked for the actions of one individual.

Perhaps to counteract Hammer’s “news coverage ADD”, global citizens need to read more than just the facts of these horrific events. Perhaps they need to read about what I mentioned above. On one hand, the community spirit that grows in response to tragedy. On the other, the backlash experienced by those who are unjustly perceived as connected to the attacker — either through religion or race.

Of course sometimes we do read more empathetic or nuanced accounts of these events, but even a journalism nerd such as myself doesn’t do this following every world news story. Maybe the secret to “stopping people shooting other people”, is for society to engage more deeply with our common humanity. Perhaps we should shift our focus from the  “time, date, number of casualties, who’s claiming responsibility” articles that saturate the media, and instead look to pieces which discuss the complexities of human reactions in times like these. In lieu of this, I encourage you all to seek journalistic articles in the next few weeks which address the humanity of Christchurch in the wake of their trauma, or head to Dendy to see Hotel Mumbai, which despite mixed reviews, left my friend and I in tears.

In memory of

Saffie Roussos · John Atkinson · Courtney Boyle · Kelly Brewster · Georgina Callender · Olivia Campbell-Hardy · Liam Curry · Chloe Rutherford · Wendy Fawell · Martyn Hett · Alison Howe · Megan Hurley · Nell Jones · Michelle Kiss · Angelika Klis · Marcin Klis · Sorrell Leczkowski · Lisa Lees · Eilidh MacLeod · Elaine McIver · Phillip Tron · Jane Tweddle

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