How to spot the difference between a terrorist and a journalist
It can be tough telling innocent hacks from violent insurrectionaries. Index on Censorship is here to help
21 Feb 14

A journalist

To: All Governments

From: Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship here. We’ve noticed some you have had trouble telling the difference between terrorists and journalist lately (yes, you too Barack: put the BlackBerry down). So we thought as people with some experience of the journalism thing, we could offer you a few handy tips to refer to the next time you find yourself asking: journalist or terrorist?

Have a look at your suspect. Is he carrying a) a notebook with weird squiggly lines on it, or b) an RPG-7. If the latter, odds on he’s a terrorist. The former? Most likely a journalist. Those squiggly lines are called “shorthand” – it’s what reporters do when they’re writing things down for, er, reporting. It might look a bit like Arabic, but it’s not, and even if it was, that wouldn’t be a good enough reason to lock the guy up.

A journalist

A journalist

Still not clear? Let’s move on to the questioning part.

Questioning can be difficult. Your modern terrorist will be highly committed, and trained to withstand even your steeliest glare (and whatever other tactics you might use, eh? LOL! Winky Smiley!). So it may be difficult to establish for certain whether he or she is in fact a terrorist by simply asking them. They might even say they are a journalist, when actually they are terrorists! Sneaky! But there are some ways of getting past this deviousness.

Does your suspect have strong feelings about unpaid internships and their effect on the industry? Or “paywalls” and profit models?  Your journalist will pounce on these question in a way that may be quite scary to watch, and keep you there talking about it long after you’ve told her she’s free to go. Your terrorist is not as bothered by these issues, generally, though may accept that it is very difficult for kids to get on the terror ladder these days and nepotism is not an ideal way to run a global bombing campaign.

A terrorist

A terrorist

Ask your suspect if he spends too much time on Twitter: If he gets defensive and says something along the lines of “Yes, but the fact is it’s justified. Stories break on Twitter. It’s not just all hashtag games and…” (again, this could go on for several hours, and will most likely end up being all about hashtag games), then he’s a journalist. [Note: If your suspects seem to spend a lot of time getting into Twitter spats with the Israel Defence Force, they may be a bit terroristy].

Does your suspect look stressed? Like, really, really stressed? Probably a journalist.

Finally, just try saying the phrase “below the line”. If you get a slightly confused look, you’ve probably got a terrorist. If there is actual wailing and gnashing of teeth, journalist.

Now let’s go over why you might be making this mix up. This is where a lot of people get confused, so we’ll be as clear as possible, but do keep up.

Terrorists generally hold quite extreme views which, it’s fair to say, most of us probably do not agree with. However, this does not mean that anyone you disagree with is a terrorist. Or, importantly, that someone who’s spoke to someone who you disagree with is a terrorist.

We understand that this can be quite a difficult point to get your head around, so here’s an example: If, say, a large, international news organisation reports on things you’d rather they didn’t, in a way you don’t like, this does NOT make them a “terrorist organisation”. The people working for them are NOT terrorists “broadcasting false news that harms national security”.

Sometimes, journalists will cover the activities of terrorist organisations, like al-Qaeda. This, however, does not automatically make them their “media man”. Get this — you can even interview members of a terrorist organisation without actually being a terrorist yourself.

Similarly, if someone has something that you want back, that doesn’t mean you get to use terrorism laws to get it, even if you think that thing is very, very important. And yes, even if they intend to use that thing to write stories about you.

Keep these basic ideas in mind and we can almost guarantee you’ll never make the embarrassing mistake of calling journalists terrorists again. Any doubts? Call us. We’re here to help.

The Index team

This article was posted on 21 February 2014 at