Friday, 01 November 2019 15:11

BELGIUM – National public broadcaster highlights attacker’s conversion to Islam without explaining its connection to the crime

An RTBF news bulletin clip and related article highlighted information about the religion of an attacker who stabbed four police officers but failed to explain the relevance to the story. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for October.

This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of October, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

RTBF assillant converti a lislamDate of broadcasting: 3 October 2019

Media Outlet: RTBF, public-service broadcasting organisation delivering radio and television services to the French-speaking Community of Belgium, in Wallonia and Brussels


Headline: “Knife attack at Paris’s police headquarters: the attacker had converted to Islam”

Description of the anti-Muslim content: An RTBF news bulletin clip and a related article drew attention to the religion of an attacker who stabbed four police officers but failed to explain why this was relevant to the story. The report was about a police administrator who stabbed and killed four people at Paris’ police headquarters on 3 October 2019. The entire news report, including 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. 

Myth debunked: 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, RTFB 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, RTFB 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.

More to read

Reporting Terror: Media Can Tell the Story Without Targeting Muslims

Seven ways to avoid double standard reporting on extremist violence

Recommendations for journalists, media workers, writers and commentators when covering crime

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