It’s scary to think that terrorism seems to be becoming more of a threat each time we hear about it in the news, as terrorist organisations such as ISIS are executing extreme acts of violence and terror against innocent people. This is touched on so heavily in the news, and it might make you wonder what type of impact that terrorism has on the media. Some would say it’s just a news story, but how it affects our media is much more than that.
Earlier this year, the Japanese government revoked the passport of a journalist who was planning on travelling to Syria. You might wonder why a journalist would even desire going to Syria after the brutal beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto at the hands of ISIS last year. This is nothing but a safety measure, but some would argue that this is confining journalists’ freedom. It’s certainly the opinion that protesting journalists in Kenya hold, as their government has now been given the power to stop journalists reporting terrorist activity. These precautions are certainly repression of press freedom, but you have to think what is more important: a life or a news story?
Kenji Goto, captured by ISIS
It is a fair argument to say that terrorist organisations thrive with more media coverage, as they are utilising social media to upload graphic videos, and even to recruit younger members. UK MP Theresa May strongly believes in this concept, as she has urged the UK media not to report on terrorism if there are lives at risk. Once again, a safety measure which could be seen as repression of press freedom.
The overall effect that terrorism has on the media is that it confuses us. A majority of people would say that it is more important to take safety precautions, but some would also then say that these precautions are merely repression of the press.
As technology has become more and more advanced over the past decade, it is now much easier for journalists to gather information. Journalists largely rely on whistle-blowers and anonymous sources for crucial material in crafting a blockbuster story. But what is the future for this relationship in wake of the legislation that will allow the Australian government to follow anyone’s digital footprint?
I’m talking about metadata retention. The term ‘metadata’ is very ambiguous, but is most simply defined as data about data. For example, if two people were to engage in a phone conversation, the metadata would include the identity of the two people, the time that they had the conversation, how long they were talking for, and where they were when they were talking, but not what was said in the conversation.
This applies to any type of digital communication, and the legislation likely to be passed will allow the government to see anyone’s digital records dating back to two years. The main argument for this technology is that it is a security measure to identify criminal and terrorist activities, which is a fair statement. But who is to say that it won’t be used for other things, such as exposing whistle-blowers?
The government would have a strong motive to use metadata retention for this reason, after the incident of Edward Snowden leaking documents from the National Security Agency in America to journalist Glenn Greenwald from The Guardian US. These documents exposed the extreme level of surveillance on the American people, and of other countries, which was controversial as people saw it as an invasion of privacy.
Edward Snowden in The Guardian.
So what impact does metadata retention have on the future of journalism? It is a strong possibility that whistle-blowers will be deterred from providing any information to journalists in fear of being exposed as the anonymous source, but we will have to wait and see how the technology plays out.