Terrorist Salah Abdeslam on front page of French newspapers after November 2015 Paris attacks
Georg Mascolo and Peter Neumann

MUNICH â€" Shortly after the 1985 hijacking of a TWA plane by a splinter group of the Shiite Hezbollah militia, Britain's then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, blasted the media for its handling of the affair and called for a new code of conduct. If the press would simply stop covering terrorist attacks, she argued before a gathering of the American Bar Association, it would deprive the attackers of "the oxygen of publicity."

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu agreed with this thesis long before he became prime minister, saying that without publicity, terrorism would be like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest without being seen or heard.

Decades later, the debate is again playing out, sparked most recently by a decision by French media to no longer mention terrorists by name or publish pictures of them. Still, the question remains: How much and what kind of reporting is appropriate? Where do we draw the line between providing correct and necessary information to the public and a reporting style that plays right into the hands of terrorists?

The primary goal of terrorism is not to kill but to terrorize. It is a special form of provocation. An attack that is not disseminated is worthless. For that reason, terrorists have long depended on the media, even as far back as the early 19th century, when anarchists took advantage of the beginnings of mass newspaper production.

Fifteen years ago, al-Qaeda struck the biggest media coup of all when it took down the Twin Towers in New York City. Osama bin Laden was credited with the still valid mantra among Islamists that a radio station is more important than a nuclear bomb.

Now, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), which is nothing more than a former subgroup of al-Qaeda, is continuing with the jihad in a most brutal way. ISIS has revolutionized propaganda use like no other terrorist organization before. It publishes an unbelievable number of messages, videos and statements, releasing 30 to 40 "propaganda units" per day, according to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's intelligence service. And these aren't the "old man videos" of Bin Laden's time, as stated by the BND, but incredibly professional material.

ISIS measures its success not just by the number of people who are killed, but also by the length of television news segments, or the font size in newspaper headlines.

But if we all followed Thatcher's suggestion and stopped reporting on terrorism, then the politicians and society as a whole would need to remain silent as well â€" an impossible goal, especially in a viral world where every bit of news spreads like wildfire. Silence simply isn't a solution to the problem at hand.

But it is necessary to think about how reporting on terrorism could and should be shaped. Some U.S. networks, like CNN and Fox, broadcast terrorist material of decapitations and burnings. Fox’s own media expert Howard Kurtz sees a problem with this approach. "I worry that we are aiding the dissemination of fear that ISIS so desperately wants to spread," he said last year. But Megyn Kelly, one of the network's star presenters, disagrees. "It's as if we're in World War II and there was a chance to see inside the concentration camp and inside the gas chamber as the horror was happening," she said.

Fox news journalist Megyn Kelly in July. Photo: Mark Reinstein/ZUMA

There are differences, of course, between the Nazis and ISIS. Whereas the former tried to hide their crimes, the latter tweets theirs for all the world to see. They even produce videos of their actions these days.

This kind of material is designed to be broadcast as widely as possible and should, therefore, be taken for what it is, namely propaganda. Which is why the media should exercise extreme caution â€" not just with pictures of the acts themselves, but also when it comes to flag waving ISIS supporters or confession videos of terrorists. They should not be used without their appropriate context and even then, only sparingly.

We also need to be careful with the words we use to describe these terrorist acts and the people who commit them. One example is the "lone wolf" label used for perpetrators who do not appear to have a prior connection to ISIS. There is an argument to be made that the term is overly celebratory, that it turns these killers into heroes.

In cases such as these, the French stance against publishing names and pictures of terrorists is the right one. ISIS tries, on the one hand, to use journalists. But it also fears them. ISIS rarely allows reporters to enter their so-called caliphate. Instead, they kidnap journalists and kill them. In late 2014, the group issued rules regarding the suppression of news in its territory. The first and most important rule is that only journalists who swear allegiance to the self-proclaimed caliphate are allowed to enter. In other words, ISIS recognizes independent reporting for what it is, a threat.

Journalists have to fight harder to expose the true face of ISIS and counter its attempts to sabotage independent reporting. They need to disseminate the facts to dispel the myths ISIS spreads â€" facts such as mass desertions and rampant corruption within the caliphate; or that ISIS, as reported by the Washington Post, sends out certain members to recover fallen soldiers, wash their bodies, and rearrange their facial features to resemble a smile. The idea, apparently, is to give the impression that the victims entered paradise with a smile, rather than died in horrible agony.

After the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France's media watchdog imposed 15 cautions and 21 warnings regarding coverage of the events. Particularly problematic were images of a Muslim policemen who was executed outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the weekly magazine that was targeted in the attack. The media also erred by reporting â€" while a separate attack was still unfolding â€" that hostages were hiding in a walk-in cooler in a Jewish supermarket. In that case, the media put the lives of the hostages directly at risk.

The people involved later sued the offending media outlets. Since then, French press has shown more restraint. Germany does not have a media watchdog, for good and historical reasons. But it has a duty to exercise self-control and to heed suggestions by the German Press Council.

For now, there are no express rules in Germany for covering terror attacks. But there is increasing pressure that norms be established. In the meantime, reporters would do well to recall this sentence from the guidelines on covering violent attacks: "The press will not be made to be the tool of criminals."

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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