Coverage of Terrorist Operation in Kerak: Media "Out of Control"; Citizen Journalists Lead the Way


For long hours in the evening, and deep into the night, on Sunday/Monday, there had been a state of lack of control in the media while covering news and details of the terrorist incident in the city of Kerak (specifically at Kerak Castle). Some of the manifestations of this lack of control continued even after announcing the end of the security operation. The AKEED Monitor followed the media coverage from different sources. Public opinion trends, as shown by social media networks, reflected a state of chaos and confusion in receiving, reproducing, and disseminating information, besides a state of frustration and harsh criticism of the performance of the official media.

Citizens Dominate the Media Scene

Meanwhile, "citizen journalists" were the real leaders of the media scene. It was through them that "professional" media, locally and internationally, reported the news. The small cameras of citizens" phones were the main vehicle for conveying developments, just as people"s accounts on Facebook were the main source of information on a large scale. This has created exceptional room for misinformation, confusion, mistakes, and rumors, eventually leading to an exceptional volume of professional violations. On the other hand, this reality showed the extent of shortcomings in the official story and the performance of public media outlets. Confusion and improvisation have also hit private sector media.

The errors of information involved some fundamental issues. These include, for example:

- Multiple and confusing stories on the progress and development in the terrorist operation. It was not clear in the first hours, and it had remained unclear until the announcement of the end of the operation, whether it was one operation or several terrorist attacks in different areas, which was denied by developments later.

- Conflicting reports about the number of members of the terrorist group were released. Some reports put the number at two, while others raised it to 15. In fact, some social media pages published a list of full names of four persons, which they said belong to the terrorists who mounted the attack. The names were later changed.

- Undocumented news was published, and then it turned out to be false, about the nationality or nationalities of the members of the group. News was published that some of them were Syrian and Libyan. Then, a report was published, attributed to security sources, to the effect that they were Jordanians. Some media outlets published the names of some of them, while others published the family name of one of them, specifying that it was from the governorate of Irbid. However, the news conference held by the minister of interior on Monday evening did not mention the nationalities.

- The misinformation included posting old videos and pictures, some of which from outside Jordan, on social media sites. The content was attributed to the current incident in Kerak. These include the video of the mother of a Palestinian martyr and a picture that was originally taken in Kurdistan/Iraq, which was alleged to belong to one of the participants in the Kerak operation.

- News was published to the effect that the car of the terrorists had escaped from Kerak to Tafileh, which was denied by security sources later.

- The pictures and names of some martyrs were published directly before they were broadcast and documented officially. This goes against media principles on such sensitive matters. Also, the pictures of the wounded were published while receiving treatment. The pictures were broadcast from the scene of the incident.    

- Videos were disseminated under sensational headlines. It turned out later that the content was inaccurate. This includes the video of "freeing hostages of the castle," and the video of "the capture of a terrorist," who turned out to be an Arab tourist.

- The pictures of some martyrs on Facebook, some of which include members of their families, were used without permission.

Official Story: Absent or Late?

The delay in issuing an official story of what was going on during the security operation or a little afterward was met with a large campaign of criticism, to the extent that many maintained that there was no official story by that time. Many questions asked by the members of the public were left unanswered. The news conference did not provide answers to these questions, some of which might not have a security dimension.

The delay in the official story and the lack of a quick response by the official media helped in opening the door for rumors and fabrications, and publishing opinions as facts and news. The Kerak Castle operation provides more media lessons, suggesting that a quick media response and responsible transparency are a national interest.

Security Sensitivity Versus Media Sensitivity

A lot of news items and details published by some media outlets, specifically electronic sites, were attributed to security sources. Identified security sources did not confirm or deny the truth of this news. In this case, and assuming that actual security sources had leaked the news, this happened in a manner that is not commensurate with the nature and scale of the incident. Such incidents, which have a security nature, require a clear security story addressed to everybody and governed by a comprehensive and consistent vision. In fact, media outlets obtained these leaks in a manner that suggests that they were achieving breakthroughs and that they had exclusive sources providing them alone with information. Such a method for leaking information is understandable within the context of partial issues, such as some incidents and ordinary crimes. However, such an incident has significant security and political implications and might require procedures on more than one level. Consequently, it cannot be deemed an exception.

There are sufficient media laws and traditions to control the process of circulating information on sensitive issues. Local experience in relation to less important issues indicates that this is possible and can be easily achieved when there is a decision to this effect. It also turned out that some of these leaks or pictures, which were taken from the scene of the security operations or from private locations, do not serve the public interest, in its simplest definition.

A video was released from a security center, containing conversations by security personnel, thus revealing the nature of their performance and their proposals and viewpoints, and even the cry for help by some of them. This suggests lack of control of dissemination of information from inside the branches of the security establishment. We should note here that the tasks of the security centers at tourist quarters and sites do not require a lot of precautions.

Assuming that state agencies, including the security agencies, wish to communicate messages to achieve other aims--this is legitimate in some cases--this was not the case concerning what was disseminated in this incident. This is because many of the messages communicated through these professional media violations were negative. What does it mean, for example, when filming a video is allowed during the confrontations, in the presence of many security men in their military uniform, while they are in a state of confusion and exchanging opinions?

Yet, it was noticed that a significant portion of the media effort of the security agencies focused on denying what is released more than on what is released indeed. The press division in the Public Security Directorate issued some warnings involving what is published.

Official Media Response: Accuracy and Speed Together

Understandably, it is difficult to control what is published in light of the expansion in means of publication and broadcasting on the level of individuals, and not only institutions. However, the availability of a reliable and active source of information deprives irresponsible individual tools of exclusive coverage and followers. It is noticeable that even local and foreign satellite channels, when reporting on the incident, relied on collecting and editing the footage released by active individuals by their own phones. It would have been sufficient to make available a professional camera accompanying those active in the field to become a more reliable source of pictures and videos that would be carried and broadcast about what happened.

One can easily notice a phenomenon that gets repeated a lot in such incidents, which is the slow official media response, to a large degree, on the part of national media establishments, which enjoy wide presence and recognition by the public. We are referring here to the press, which was not a competitive source of information during the peak hour of the incident. It is unreasonable for newspapers to use the expression "social media activists have carried," while they have correspondents reporting from the scene.

Perhaps, the greatest criticism was the share of the official media, especially television. Some activists even fixed the cameras of their mobile phones in the position of live broadcasting (on Facebook) in front of the screen of Jordan TV, along with expressions of sarcasm and ridicule of what the television was showing. Also, activists carried, with extreme ridicule, the text of the "breaking news" that was carried on the TV screen for a long time, while the TV was showing unrelated programs. The matter reached the extent of one site publishing a report, in the meantime, devoted to the severe criticism of Jordan TV among citizens.

Public Conducts Verification: Positive, But Limited, Phenomenon

A positive element emerged during the "coverage" and observation by citizens of the incident. This element reflects the presence of some aspects of the media culture on the level of the public, albeit on a limited scale. Citizens followed what they read and saw with a critical eye. Some activists searched for pictures and videos and revealed their origins. We can say that suspicion became a part of the norm in handling what was published.  

For many hours, many people had insisted on getting a reliable official story. The public, in general, showed concern about "national interest." A lot of material was posted on social media sites on the war on terror in the form of impressions and positions by activists, and then on the martyrs and on solidarity with the people of Kerak.

We should note that media outlets were operating in the midst of a sympathetic public, which was interested in getting the facts published, while heeding national interest. In fact, it saw national interest as lying in good media performance. This means that the opportunity was available for professional media to present credible material, supported by necessary information. In a nutshell, it was an opportunity for genuine professional practice.   

In conclusion, the following are some links to items published by media outlets, which can help explain some of the observations in the report:

In Pictures…Bodies of Dead Terrorists From Inside Kerak Castle

Bodies of Terrorists Removed From Kerak Castle at Night/Pictures

Bodies of Terrorists Removed From Kerak Castle (Pictures)

Bodies of Terrorists Removed From Kerak Castle (Video and Pictures)

Perpetrators of Kerak Operation Carry Jordanian Citizenship

Initial Investigations Indicate That Terrorists Are "Jordanians"

Source Tells Ammon: Investigations Indicate That Terrorists Are "Jordanians"

Security Sources: Criminals From Arab Nationalities and Jordanians in Kerak Operation

Kerak Attack Terrorist…Extremists Holed Up Inside Kerak Castle; Hostages Not Ruled Out…Names of Martyrs

Kerak: Gunmen Hold 14 Hostages and Appeals Made Through Mosques in City

Kerak: Terrorist Operation Continuing; 10 Dead, 27 Wounded; Gendarmerie Combs Castle; Explosive Belts Found…Video, Pictures, and Names of Martyrs and Wounded

In Pictures..Activists Launch Campaign of Criticism of Jordan TV For Being Absent From Reporting Incidents in Kerak

In Video…Moment of Capture of Gunman in Kerak…Citizens Beat Him Up