ENORB, GTTO partner in Belgium, has filed a complaint to the TV channel RTBF for unprofessional conduct.
An RTBF news bulletin clip and a related article drew attention to the religion of the attacker who stabbed and killed four police officers at Paris’ police headquarters on 3 October 2019 but failed to explain why this was relevant to the story.
The entire news report, starting from the headline, is framed around the recent conversion of the attacker to Islam, but this information is barely mentioned in the body of the text. The article does not explain the connection between the religion and the motivation of the attack, leaving readers to make a false link between Islam and violence. “This suggests the reference to Islam is used to promote clicks by readers,” ENORB wrote, “without taking into account the devastating consequences that this might have on a religious minority in the country”.
The day after the attack, anti-terrorism prosecutors took over the investigation, suggesting that a possible terrorism motive was being considered. Only a few days later, the French anti-terrorist prosecutor revealed that the man who stabbed and killed four people was a radicalised Islamist who slit the throat of at least one of his victims. At the time of the publication of the news bulletin, which was the same day of the attack, RTBF had no reason to make a correlation between the conversion of the attacker and the murders. But by framing their report around the religion of the killer, they implied that the religious affiliation could explain the murderer’s act, thus fuelling the stigmatisation of Muslim people.
If there was a connection, as it was revealed by the prosecutors only later, RTBF should have explained it, rather than leaving the readers to make assumptions. It often happens that reporters mention the religion of criminals, and their conversion, when they are Muslim, even when this does not add any relevant information useful to understanding the incidents. This contributes to strengthening a false narrative that converting to Islam is an automatic sign of radicalisation, with devastating consequences on the Muslim population. Journalists should be careful of how their reporting may fuel fear and incite further hatred against religious minorities.
ENORB requested RTBF edit the article, leaving out the irrelevant information about the attacker’s religious beliefs. RTBF replied to the complaint saying that they believe the conversion of the perpetrator to Islam was in the public interest and that it was widely reported by news agencies after the police’s statements.