Terror Attacks: Front Page News?


July 1, 2007 — -- The word "terror" was splashed across headlines all over the country this weekend. But that was not the case in the Arab world.

On Saturday morning, while western papers and broadcasts focused on the failed terror plot in London, it was the war in Afghanistan, the crisis in Gaza and the bloodshed in Iraq that dominated the news in Arab countries.

When another attack occurred Saturday in Britain at the Glasgow Airport, Arab papers began to take notice. But while American news outlets were quick to call it terrorism, Arab news outlets held back.

Al Jazeera's Web site stressed that police had not confirmed a link between the London bomb plot and the Glasgow car bomb. The only mention of terrorism came from a witness who was quoted as saying, "I think this was a terrorist attack."

On Sunday, Al Jazeera still avoided the word "terrorism." The only use was in a quote from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Arab American News, a weekly bilingual newspaper based in Michigan went to press before the events in London and Glasgow unfolded. But for the next issue, the paper's publisher, Osama Siblani, says he will exercise the same restraint in using words like terrorism.

"We have to wait and see what the British authorities are going to conclude," Siblani said.

Siblani applauds the Arab media for not speculating. "I don't think journalists can act as security authorities," he said.

Siblani adds that his paper will be more interested in covering the story if the suspects in the case turn out to have a connection to the Middle East or Islam. For now, Siblani says he wants to practice cautious journalism before throwing out accusations.

Kent Collins, chairman of the broadcast journalism department at the University of Missouri, said it's not footdragging on the part of the Arab media — it's good journalism.

"The fear factor causes the story to be bigger in the western media," Collins said. "In the Arab world, this is not perceived as a risk to them."

Because the threat appears to be aimed at western targets, Collins believes journalists in the Middle East are right to give the story less attention. "They can wait for facts to be known ... before they pass it on to their public," Collins said.

So, while American cable news networks are rushing to get the newest details on the air, Arab journalists can take a moment to double check their notes.

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