Harsh British laws have seen Muslims branded as "terrorists", arrested and imprisoned without charge. The National Union of Journalists has armed reporters with guidelines to prevent them being used by police and the security services as a propaganda tool to whip up Islamaphobia.
The NUJ give this scenario which has been played out all too frequently around the country: I’m a reporter for a paper, website or broadcasting station. Police have raided various premises and arrested a number of men on suspicion of terrorist activity in my area. They hold a media briefing but give little information, arguing that national security is at stake.
What questions should I ask, and what should I report?
This is a story that has come up, amid a blaze of police publicity, many times. The NUJ Ethics Council has been discussing how to handle it. Here are the commonsense guideline.
When reporting official claims (by police, government or security services) about terror suspects or terrorist threats
■ Request evidence for the claims and report any failure to provide meaningful information.
■ Ask why the ordinary criminal law does not suffice to counter threats of violent activities.
When reporting official claims about "anti-terror" legislation and its role in protecting society
■ Be careful not to present claims as fact; qualify them as alleged or suspected. Otherwise you may be complicit in inciting racial and religious hatred, or in smearing specific individuals if the claims are false.
■ Remind readers that "anti-terror" laws authorise police action against non-violent activities, so that individuals may be suspected for their religious practices or beliefs, for the people they associate with, the organisations they belong to or the websites they visit.
■ Remember that only 20 per cent of those arrested under terrorism laws are charged with a terrorism-related
offence, that only five per cent are convicted – and again that the offences include a broad range of non-violent activities, for instance organising or taking part in legitimate public protests.
■ Avoid implying that terror suspects are terrorists, or that a ‘terrorist conviction’ involves planning or taking part in violent activities.
When presented with an "expert" on terrorism or related subjects
■ Ask about the expert’s qualifications and why their opinion should be given particular weight.
■ Check how the expert’s work is funded.
■ Try to ensure a political balance with different expert views.
These guidelines are based on the NUJ's Code of Conduct.