# Terrorismo

International Terrorism and Television: An Analytical Discourse Based on Media Regulation on Coverage of Terrorism in Pre and Post 9/11 Scenario

Abstract:

There are numerous parameters that have to be taken into consideration when considering the relationship between the media and terrorism. The relationship is complicated by the use of the media by terrorists to optimize the psychological impact of their acts of terror beyond the immediate location of the act itself, and what could cynically be described as the media’s use of terrorism to attract audiences.

The invasion of a terrorist victim’s privacy is the most direct and visible harm from media coverage of terrorism. The invasion of privacy by the media both during and following a terrorist event such as kidnapping, for instance, can be as traumatic to victims and their families

as the actual kidnapping itself. If business executives dicker about ransom, for instance, company management will be perceived as insensitive or materialistic in its concern. Thus, publicized ransom decisions can adversely effect executive morale and increase exposure to future ter-

rorist attacks.

The public has a valid interest in preserving domestic order.’  The media, especially the broadcaster, can often frustrate police management by interfering with on-going operations, compounding the pressure on authorities, and impairing their ability to make decisions.

By its very nature, terrorism is meant to capture the attention of the public. It is directed at changing the way society thinks. Modern technology, through television and the capabilities of global satellite communications systems, has provided terror groups with a critical communications instrument through which the terrorist receives instantaneous worldwide publicity.Terrorists use the media as a form of political advertising. Since they cannot buy television time, they gain coverage through commission of terrorist acts. Just as early television sponsors produced shows as vehicles for their commercials,30 media terrorists now provide live drama-murder and kidnapping-in return for “advertising time”.

Key Words: Terrorism, Media, Regulation, 9/11, Media Coverage, Self Constraint

  1. The media and government and the Regulation :Introduction:

In United States, the freedoms of expression granted to the press are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and similar rights in state constitutions. The privileges granted to the media are based on various conceptions of how the press facilitates democratic self-government. The media are responsible for providing citizens the information needed for effective self-governance through news coverage of public affairs involving the government and government officials, national and local communities, and international events. The media’s relationship with government is complicated since the press also has a watchdog function to fulfill by exposing governmental abuse of power and any other official misdeeds. The American tradition of freedom of expression generally does not allow for prior restraint by the government, which improves the media’s ability to expose wrongdoing.

In the virtual absence of prior restraint, more subtle forms of censorship have developed. Among these is what Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs has called “a silky form of censorship” (quoted in Jones and Kemper). Given the limits on prior restraint and the dictates of state and federal freedom of information acts, government denials of access to information are often couched in national security claims. As Doris Graber has documented, the Bush Administration has frequently employed national security claims to justify censorship (Graber 542-43). In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush Administration encouraged government officials at all levels to hinder access to what it deemed sensitive information. The media were also encouraged to practice self-censorship in the name of patriotism and civic duty. For example, in October 2001, Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Advisor, personally asked the CEOs of the major American television networks to refrain from broadcasting live, unedited video or audio clips from Osama bin Laden, because, she said, the administration was concerned that bin Laden’s communiqués might contain coded directions for his foot soldiers. In an unprecedented move, the major networks acquiesced in the Administration’s request. President of CBS News Andrew Heyward told reporters he did not “see any conflict between patriotism and good journalism” (quoted in Jones and Kemper). Doris Graber’s research into the rhetorical strategies adopted by both government and media spokespersons to justify censorship following the September 11, 2001 attacks shows that journalists themselves sometimes justify censorship by appealing to national security, public demands, patriotism or civic virtue, and defending common values (Graber 542-49).

The balance to be struck is between the citizen’s right to reliable neutral information and faith in public authorities who may have legitimate national security reasons for withholding information, but who might also misinform or attempt to spin their policies and performances for personal or partisan gain. Numerous studies suggest the US media have been too uncritical in their coverage of the Bush Administration’s policies implemented in response to the events of September 11. Critiques range from the media’s failure to challenge the validity of a “war on terror” to a lack of critical analysis, reportage, and commentary on the war on terror (see, for example, Coe et al.; Kellner). The dilemma here is straightforward: if the press is too critical of the Administration, it risks incurring the Administration’s wrath, as when former Attorney General of the United States John Ashcroft testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

… to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists-for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil. (“Testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft”)

Although most journalists avoid compromising national security, many drew a line at Ashcroft’s accusations. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle forcefully rejected Ashcroft’s arguments: “A vigorous debate about the proper balance between law enforcement “tools” and civil liberties does not undermine President Bush or his war on terrorism; it is an affirmation of a system that is greater and more enduring than any individual who happens to hold office at any given moment” (Editorial).

Coverage of military activities highlights the mass media’s dilemmas. Democratic governments establish conflict media policies for their military operations during the planning stages of a campaign. Such policies involve both cooperating with the media and impeding media access to unfiltered information. Press briefings replete with videos of apparently flawless air strikes, maps, charts, and accommodating, if reticent, officers provide the press with images, sound bites, and information that further military goals. From a strategic perspective, tightly controlled information environments allow the military to shape the perceptions of the media audience and in turn the perceptions of the public as a whole in such a way as to ensure support for the war effort. The media are indispensable to the military’s efforts at creating and maintaining public support for war efforts as well as being a channel for disseminating disinformation targeted at adversaries. In their role of providing their audiences with information about critical events, the media are voluntary conduits of information (Taylor 145).

This conflicts with the media’s watchdog function, which entails seeking alternative channels of information to the government and militarily sanctioned versions of events. The specter of threats to national security always looms when the press publish alternative versions of events or information that the government prefers to suppress.

  1. The Debate on Regulation on Coverage of Terrorism:

There are numerous parameters that have to be taken into consideration when considering the relationship between the media and terrorism. The relationship is complicated by the use of the media by terrorists to optimize the psychological impact of their acts of terror beyond the immediate location of the act itself, and what could cynically be described as the media’s use of terrorism to attract audiences. The media’s role is complicated by the divergent responsibilities of journalists. On the one hand, journalists have a professional interest in maintaining objectivity and neutrality in their coverage of terrorists’ acts or groups; on the other hand, journalists are citizens with the same civic duties as other citizens. This dichotomy is sustained by the First Amendment, which can be interpreted as giving journalists greater leeway than other citizens in fulfilling certain civic duties. For example, journalists might infiltrate criminal (or terrorist) organizations in order to write an article but not reveal sources.

Although I argue that the paradox faced by mass media in democracies confronted with terrorist acts and threats of future terrorist acts is irresolvable, I do not agree with Jean Baudrillard’s overly broad claim that “[t]here is no good use of the media: the media is part of the event itself, part of the terror, and its role plays in both directions” (Baudrillard 414). The mass media are indeed placed in a predicament by contemporary terrorism. It can be argued that the contemporary mass media epitomize the freedom versus security debates that have taken place since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Those debates suggest that the dilemma of striking a balance that is widely acceptable within pluralist democracies is theoretically impossible, although in practice a workable albeit contested compromise is an ongoing work in progress.

  1. Regulatory Framework on Coverage of Terrorism in Pre 9/11 Scenario: A Backgrounder:

In the battle for survival of the reasonable society the television camera is the supertank-the Queen of the Battlefield. Ordinary mortals are wise to learn her ways and treat her with respect, but those who serve in her entourage have an awful responsibility.

Government leaders throughout the world are currently addressing the growing threat of terrorist activity. The leaders recognize the media’s role as a conduit for terrorist demands’ and are taking action. All agree that “media terrorism ‘  is an evil that should be eradicated, yet,while there has been much serious research on the problem of the media’s role in domestic violence, the problem of how the media should function in a terrorist-crisis situation has not been systematically studied.  Some observers accuse the news media of inspiring terrorist acts or serving as willing accomplices of the terrorists. Others allege that the media is responsible for terrorism only to the same degree that civil aviation is responsible for hijackings: “One can stop hijacking by

grounding all civil aircraft; perhaps terrorism could be reduced by complete  media black out

‘British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has taken a less hostile view. Thatcher has proposed “journalistic self-discipline” to starve future terrorists of “the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III endorsed the Prime Minister’s proposal and took it a step further. Meese proposed that the United States Government “ask news organizations to adopt a voluntary code of restraint in reporting terrorist incidents.” Speaking before the American Bar Association, Meese stated that he would oppose legislation restricting news practices. He suggested, however, that newspapers, magazines and broadcasters should agree to “some principles reduced to writing.”This Note attempts to clarify the relationship between terrorism and the media. It evaluates the policy considerations’ regarding the propriety of media coverage or non-coverage of terrorist activities. The current forms of media regulation, and their applicability to the terrorist problem, are considered. This Note concludes that internal industry standards, if sufficiently effective, would be the most favorable method

of regulation in this instance, and suggests industry guidelines to articulate the media’s role in combating terrorism.

3.1:  Policies Affected By Media Coverage of Terrorism :

The policies that might be served by regulating the media’s coverage  of terrorism, in descending order of the need to regulate, include the following: (1) protecting victims’ privacy; (2) preserving domestic order; (3) prolonging the crisis; (4) encouraging future acts of terrorism;

(5) sensationalising; (6) ensuring the safety and well-being of target victims; (7) providing a forum of communication; and (8) satisfying the public’s need to know.

3.1.1:  Protection Policy:

The invasion of a terrorist victim’s privacy is the most direct and visible harm from media coverage of terrorism. The invasion of privacy by the media both during and following a terrorist event such as kidnapping, for instance, can be as traumatic to victims and their families

as the actual kidnapping itself. If business executives dicker about ransom, for instance, company management will be perceived as insensitive or materialistic in its concern. Thus, publicized ransom decisions can adversely effect executive morale and increase exposure to future ter-

rorist attacks.

In one incident, after hostages were freed, the police warned them not to give interviews to avoid increasing the complexity and difficulty of the prosecutor’s task. Hostages complained that some journalists insisted on getting interviews. One network representative asserted that

the public has the “right to know.”‘” In declining to grant the interview, one harassed hostage replied, “Is it in the Constitution that the public has the right to invade my privacy, to insist on exposing people already humiliated, to wallow in their pain and misery?’

3.1.2: Law Enforcement:

The public has a valid interest in preserving domestic order.’  The media, especially the broadcaster, can often frustrate police management by interfering with on-going operations, compounding the pressure on authorities, and impairing their ability to make decisions.

Full media disclosure of law enforcement activities could hinder the preservation of domestic order and impede counterterrorist efforts.  Media coverage of such activities could lead to interference with law enforcement efforts in siege management crises. Or such disclosure could reveal particular law enforcement techniques and strategies of surveillance, investigation, or pursuit, and thus impede counterterrorist efforts in the future.’The takeover of three buildings in Washington, D.C., in March 1977, for instance, became a major media event in which the media unknowingly worked at cross purposes with the responsible law enforcement officials. The media gave the Hanifi Muslim terrorists direct intelligence information (adding to the terrorists power) through on-site television coverage. Journalists directly telephoned the terrorists for interviews, thus hindering communication between the terrorists and police negotiators.During this incident, a television journalist publicly announced the lifting of a basket by rope to an upper floor, where some people, unknown to the gunmen, had barricaded themselves in a room. Hence, the gunmen were probably informed of the television reporter’s observations by fellow terrorists who were monitoring the news media.’

During the same incident, a prominent Washington newscaster mistakenly labeled a gunman as a Black Muslim. Because the gunman’s family had been murdered by Black Muslims, he flew into a rage,stormed into the hostages’ room, and declared that he would kill one of them “in retaliation for the newsman’s words.”‘In another incident of media irresponsibility during the siege, a local journalist, reporting live, over both the radio and television, described what he thought were boxes of ammunition being taken into the building in preparation for what he termed an “all-out police assault.” The boxes, in fact, contained food for the hostages. ‘ The

repercussions of such journalistic irresponsibility’s could have been devastating. In some incidents, the media’s irresponsibility has resulted in fatal repercussions. For example, journalists directly contributed to the death of a hostage in a hijacking incident. While terrorists on board the hijacked jet were listening to the public radio broadcast, the journalist reported that the jet’s “captain was passing valuable intelligence information to the authorities on the ground through his normal radio transmissions.”  The terrorists subsequently executed the captain.

When a terrorist incident is covered by the media, an inevitable critical relationship develops between the media responsible for reporting the episode, and the law enforcement personnel handling the incident. A terrorist event can seldom be kept secret. Especially in a siege

situation, blocked streets or a surrounded house quickly becomes a honey pot for journalists. Law enforcement officials must realize that some journalists will go to any extreme to get news. The police must therefore decide, case by case, between setting up a complete barricade

or being so casual that the media may thwart the chances of a successful rescue.

3.1.3:. Prolong the Crisis:

Media attention may do more than interfere with law enforcement management during a terrorist crisis. It may actually prolong the crisis by introducing more variables into the equation. During the 1985 TWA hijacking, for instance, the White House considered asking the networks to limit their coverage on the grounds that “emotional pleas [were] making it more difficult to manage the crisis.”

Once begun, media coverage gives the terrorist an incentive to prolong the crisis. For example, the American hostages kidnapped in Iran might not have been held as long as they were had the Iranians not realized that they had created an effective television stage which gave them immediate access to millions of people. The Iranians exploited the hostage crisis in a manner that would not have been possible without television cameras. 26 Speculating about why the Amal seemed reluctant to give up the hostages on the final weekend of the TWA hijacking, Peter Jennings remarked: “They were at the center of the universe-these hostage holders-why should they give them up?

3.2: Future of Terrorism:

Media coverage of terrorism may further harm society by encouraging future acts of terrorism. The broadcasting of terrorist acts can lead to future acts because such coverage can (1) give terrorists advantages by providing worldwide publicity for their ideologies and organizational

advantages, (2) result in imitated acts, and (3) make victims more vulnerable to repeated attacks.

3.2.1: Advantages to Terrorists:

By its very nature, terrorism is meant to capture the attention of the public. It is directed at changing the way society thinks. Modern technology, through television and the capabilities of global satellite communications systems, has provided terror groups with a critical communications instrument through which the terrorist receives instantaneous worldwide publicity.Terrorists use the media as a form of political advertising. Since they cannot buy television time, they gain coverage through commission of terrorist acts. Just as early television sponsors produced shows as vehicles for their commercials,30 media terrorists now provide live

drama-murder and kidnapping-in return for “advertising time”.

In 1968, for example, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s3 2 terrorist acts were intended not to demoralize the Israelis, but to publicize political grievances.33 The intended audience was not the immediate victims, the airline passengers, or even the Israelis, but the entire world.  Thus, restrictions on media publicity might have prevented these terrorists actions.

The Irish Republican Army- was also well aware of terrorists’ ability to extort publicity. One of the few university graduates who joined the Provisional IRA (though she soon left it) articulated the importance that the group attached to propaganda:

Bombs were frequently timed to coincide with the evening rush hour when they would cause maximum impact. This had the added advantage that they would get a mention in the six o’clock TV news. The same applied to shooting incidents in which the aim was to involve the

army; these would be timed so that the IRA’s pre-drafted story,amended as necessary, could be issued to the press in time for news bulletin or newspaper deadlines-but carefully calculated to ensure that police or army accounts would be too late ….

In July of 1974, an analysis of sixty bomb explosions showed that over eighty percent were timed to obtain maximum coverage on television news.

It is also a concern that the media loses interest in covering now mundane hijackings and kidnappings, terrorists will then employ more spectacular methods of attracting publicity. The “fanatical” attack on the U.S. Marine Headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, is one such example.

 3.2.2:Organizational Advantage:

Media coverage not only serves terrorists’ ideological purposes by publicizing their campaign; it also gives them an organizational advantage by allowing a specific group to exhibit its strength and audaciousness in comparison with its rivals. Any organized “group” must periodically consider its organizational allegiance,effectiveness, and survival.  Terrorist groups willing to sacrifice lives for their cause often engage in acts of terror to insure loyalty to that cause.  Terror is also used by such groups to maintain internal discipline and to punish members for disobedience and defection.  Their methods of internal discipline can be as brutal as the lynchings of the Japanese Red Army, or the kneecapping of the IRA.Acts of terror can also be used as a tool to prevent the formulation of splinter groups and an instrument of intergroup rivalry.” An example of this “intergroup dynamic” is evident in the words of the Palestine Black September Organization. Responding to the western world’s outrage at the Arab group’s attack on the Israeli Olympic team,  he stated:

Call us what you may but it’s good for our morale, and it may help the moderate elements in the movement to take a more militant position.After all our defeats, this comes as an uplift. We feel we have to do something. What does the world expect of young Arabs these days?

We have seen too many defeats.

3.2.3: Imitated Acts:

Worldwide terrorist publicity may also lead to an imitation effect,which, in turn, can become a direct cause of subsequent acts of terrorism. When terrorist techniques are disseminated and stories of daring and success against authorities are created, the success can encourage

angry and frustrated groups, even in other countries, to imitate the acts.  An example of such imitation occurred when Argentina’s Montoneros stole the body of ex-President Pedro Aramburu to insure that Eva Peron’s body would be returned from Spain.48 Shortly afterwards, Burmese terrorists stole the body of U Thant to use in negotiating with the Burmese government.

The recurrence of similar kinds of terrorist incidents following (and seemingly related to) particularly graphic reporting of a terrorist event has led some observers to conclude that there is a correlation be. Imitated Acts Worldwide terrorist publicity may also lead to an imitation effect,

which, in turn, can become a direct cause of subsequent acts of terrorism. When terrorist techniques are disseminated and stories of daring and success against authorities are created, the success can encourage angry and frustrated groups, even in other countries, to imitate the

acts.  An example of such imitation occurred when Argentina’s Montoneros stole the body of ex-President Pedro Aramburu to insure that Eva Peron’s body would be returned from Spain.48 Shortly afterwards, Burmese terrorists stole the body of U Thant to use in negotiating with the Burmese government.The recurrence of similar kinds of terrorist incidents following

(and seemingly related to) particularly graphic reporting of a terrorist event has led some observers to conclude that there is a correlation be-tween the reporting of an event and subsequent similar events. For instance, some studies assert that people who watch and listen to the exportation of violent techniques on the news media get ideas about doing the same things themselves. 5 ‘ The more publicity that the media gives to bomb scares, for instance, the more bomb scares there are likely to be. And reports about plane hijacking appear to have lead to

additional plane hijackings. Even if such a relationship exists, however, it would not prove that publicity of terrorist acts caused or encouraged later terrorist acts.

3.2.4: Vulnerable Victims:

The media’s coverage of terrorism events can also lead to future terrorist attacks by increasing particular victims’ vulnerability to terrorist demands. Coverage can increase terrorism victims’ vulnerability by (1) initially putting victims in a position where they cannot protect their

own interests, and (2) publicizing the concessions that such victims make to terrorists and hence increasing their susceptibility to future

3.3: Sensationalism:

Media coverage of terrorism is often attacked for “sensationalism.” While it is unclear exactly what is meant by media sensationalism,  there are probably two primary objections. First, media coverage can justify terrorism by leading its audience to view terrorism in a favorable light. Second, it can offend its audience, or make people uncomfortable by espousing actions and doctrines which to many people are abhorrent.

  1. Regulations on Coverage of Terrorism in Post 9/11 Scenario:

On Sept. 11, 2001, it didn’t matter if you were anchorman Tom Brokaw of NBC News or a rookie reporter at a small town newspaper, you were faced with a crisis you never before experienced or could have imagined. The decisions that were made in newsrooms across the country have left a lasting change in how media outlets cover stories to this day.

4.1: Sensationalism Gives Way to Sensitivity:

The attacks needed no hyperbole, no creative writing to make them appear worse than they already were.

In the days after the attacks, David Westin, the president of ABC News, ordered that video of the jets hitting the World Trade Center in New York City not be repeated over and over so as not to disturb viewers, especially children.

That was a landmark decision, considering how many times Americans had been exposed to video of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy. Before then, if you had good video you usually exploited it.

Today, news organizations are re-examining coverage of violent stories, such as the Virginia Tech massacre. Some are deciding that even when video is available, it is too graphic to put on TV.

4.2:Technology Brings Personal Stories to Life:

Cell phones helped bring the horror to life on 9/11, as frantic people made calls to search for loved ones and to get help. While the news media has access to fragments of calls, most will never be heard on the public airwaves.

Today, cell phones can snap photos and record videos and post them online.

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In the rush to get the story on the air, news managers have to decide how to use this form of communication. A key question is whether to use only the images that were sent directly to the media outlet, or to use whatever you can find on the Internet without regard to privacy or ownership.

The same is true for posts on Twitter or Facebook, which didn’t exist in 2001. A media company needs to establish a social media policy about how to use these tools.

4.3:Patriotism Finds Its Place on TV

Remember the U.S. flag pins that politicians and newscasters began wearing shortly after the attacks? At first, they were seen as a sign that America would stand strong. Before long, critics said they were being used to show support for then-Pres. George W. Bush.

News organizations that would never take a political stance were faced with a unique dilemma — by keeping the pins, some might think they supported a political agenda. Take them off and others would accuse them of being un-American. ABC was one organizationwith a policy stating symbols could not be worn.

The pin flap has faded, but the patriotism battle continues over a cable TV channel. Al Jazeera English (AJE) is a news channel that presents reports from a Middle East perspective, offering Americans a look at how people in the rest of the world view us.

Cable TV companies are reportedly worried about a backlash if they offered the channel. Even though AJE has won a Columbia Journalism Award, it’s tough to find it on most U.S. cable systems. It’s only recently been added in New York City.

4.4:Cultural Differences Become Social Dividers:

Once the nation saw the faces and read the names of the 9/11 suspects, it became easy to target people of Middle Eastern ancestry or Islamic belief as possible terrorists. News organizations chose to actively fight that stereotyping or saw an opportunity to pander to it.

Fox News Channel has been accused of playing to Americans’ fears of Muslims. Others in media are criticized for assuming that all terrorist acts since 9/11 are committed by Muslim extremists, then acting surprised when the suspects in some violent acts, like the 2011 attack in Norway, turn out to be white and Christian.

Other media outlets have taken a different approach, seeking Muslims in their own communities to interview about their faith and rituals. Coverage of a threatened Islamic Jihad is replaced with stories explaining Ramadan, a holy month.

4.5:Possible New Threats Create Coverage:

Bomb threats and mysterious white powder discoveries have become a part of U.S. society since 9/11. News managers often struggle as they decide whether rumors of a possible violent act are newsworthy or just feed into fear.

For years, a bomb threat at a neighborhood school was dismissed as the work of pranksters and ignored. Not anymore. Now they are often reported if arrests are made, even if the suspects are just mischievous teenagers.

White powder will bring out the news crews to this day. Most discoveries turn out to be harmless, like the dust found in Chicago or the instant soup uncovered in New York. Still, the coverage shows that reporters have conditioned themselves to treat every situation as serious.

In the years since the attacks, journalists have a delicate balancing act. Cover every development as a breathless alert and be accused of sensationalism. Downplay threats and be blasted for putting lives in jeopardy. News managers find themselves making the same judgment calls as politicians and law enforcement experts. But all these groups now have the wisdom that comes from witnessing and surviving 9/11.

  1. The 9/11 Attacks and the Media

Without a doubt, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon near Washington, DC were shocking global media events that dominated public attention and provoked reams of discourse (Kellner 2004). Obviously, terrorists were aware of the fact that attacking the symbolic targets in the US, killing thousands of citizens, and causing a tremendous amount of damage to the American and international economy, as well as the image of the US would be sensational news around the globe.

The response of the media in the US was often far from being objective, calm, and prudent. Instead, media organs oozed hatred and hysteria, calling for action against mainly Arabs and Muslims and crying for revenge, as terrorists would have planned. The major corporate media tended to support the patriotic discourse and the policies of the then president George W. Bush, who was leading the nation against the forces of “political and cosmological evil” (Lewis 2005). This way of media coverage after a traumatic event dramatically changed the public perceptions, discourse at government and public levels, and the way people perceive events and “other” people, specifically ethnic and religious minorities who can be perceived as a “threat”. As a result, as Altheide (2009) argues, the discourse of fear has been constructed through news and popular culture accounts and the main discourse of fear has clearly become terrorism in the post 9/11 era. In other words, “9/11 was used by the media and politicians to promote fear related agendas and ideologies. Citizens became accustomed to ‘safety rhetoric’ by police officials, which often required them to permit police searches, condone ‘overaggressive’ police action, as well as join in a myriad of crime-prevention efforts, many of which involved more human as well as electronic surveillance of work places, neighborhoods, stores, and even ‘bodies’” (Altheide 2009).

The picture above suggests that the architects of the 9/11 attacks achieved their media-centered objectives, as the media conveyed the message that even the US was vulnerable to terror attack, that terrorists could create great harm, and that anyone at any time could be subject to a deadly terror attack. They also succeeded in immersing the US government in “a global information war to promote the interests, values, and the image of the US” (Kavoori and Fraley 2006). Terrorists were obviously aware of the magnitude of sensation their attacks would create; however, the way media covered news and stories rendered it possible for the terrorists to conceive an unimaginable victory in terms of penetrating into the daily lives of a huge audience. They attracted global attention, obtained global recognition, received a degree of respect among sympathizers, and gained legitimacy in the eyes of supporters and potential recruits, through the fear narrative the media employed.

  1. Recommendations for Media on Coverage of Terrorism:

The media plays a central role in the calculus of political violence and are put into positions where they can magnify or minimize these kinds of acts and their perpetrators, or, of course, they can provide coverage that avoids either one of those extremes (Nacos 2002a). Under this light, the recommendations below can be implemented to minimize the media-related effects of terrorism:

6.1:Desecuritization :

There is no doubt that terrorism must be reported. However, the way the events are framed and the extent to which it is covered is also important. Accordingly, in order to alter the symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the media, it is of high importance for the media to reevaluate and change its rhetoric when covering the terrorism-related news and stories. Just as the security elite can desecuritize issues in international affairs through speech-acts, media can adopt the same approach and desecuritize terrorism-related acts and stories through covering those incidents just as any other story in a more responsible and less “sensational” manner. Achieving this may not only prevent terrorists from using media coverage as an important publicity and recruitment tool, but may also prevent the emergence of an atmosphere of fear at the public level. It may also force government and security elite to make more rational decisions regarding countering terrorism and dealing with public outrage. Hence, news coverage with less repetition of horrific scenes, less traumatization, less sensation and more information and prudence are essential in the first place to break the symbiosis.

6.2:Objectivity :

The media should have a conscious sense of its responsibilities to the public, as one of the goals of terrorists it to shake public confidence in their own security. Thus, objectivity and bipartisanship should be key when reporting a story. The media should present both sides of the story to the audience fairly and accurately without bias, so that the audience can make their own opinion of the news and/or story independent of the media’s negative influence. The media coverage of success stories should be balanced with the coverage of failure stories without speculation and dramatization in order to add to the credibility of the source and public order in the aftermath of an attack.

6.3:Clarity:

Since a critical part of counterterrorism is information warfare, it is among the goals of terrorists to misinform the public and exploit the uncertainty and suspicion emerged afterwards. Given these, the media should provide the clearest, most factual, and most balanced information to the extent it is possible to prevent the misinterpretation of terrorism-related incidents by the public and government officials who can possibly make suboptimal decisions regarding the countering moves. The media should especially avoid presenting extreme and blindly partisan viewpoints to raise ratings and use a plain language that everybody can understand in order not to invite panic.

6.4:Selective use of soft power :

Even though some advocate the use of media tools for propaganda against terrorists, specifically in the narrative warfare in radical extremism, this is generally fruitless, given that the media has certain limits and legal and moral obligations, while terrorists do not. It is also counterproductive, as media propoganda amplifies the perceived power of a terrorist organization. Instead, media can be employed as a public affairs and public diplomacy tool instead of a propaganda tool to influence foreign publics and potential recruits. To this end, without propaganda, through the “new” and “traditional” media tools, the extremist narrative can be countered with an equally clear and appealing narrative to deny access to the public terrorists draw their support from.

6.5:Differentiation :

Since no terrorist group is alike, the media should differentiate between different types of terrorism and terrorist groups in order not to provoke and mobilize public against certain ethnic and/or religious minorities. In other words, it is of high importance not to cover news and stories in such a way to contribute to the “otherization” of the group in question and create an “us vs. them” scenario. Such dichotomy can give way to social unrest in multicultural societies that fail to integrate certain groups and trigger further attacks, as the anger and hopelessness become pushing forces for potential recruiters, sympathizers, and even moderates to uprise.

6.6:Counter cyber-terrorism :

The Internet has become a central forum in a global scale for debate among numerous communities that are being directly affected by the global political violence. The communication of violent and oppressive groups has also heavily relied on the Internet. In other words, the age of the Internet has brought an age of online terrorism and enabled terrorists to use the web to recruit, raise money, and spread their messages. Even though the regulation of the media, specifically the Internet, presents a fundamental dilemma due to the inherent tension between censorship and the democratic tradition of free speech, privacy, and press freedom, it is crucial to take countering measures against the cyber activities of terrorists. These measures can include tracking their activities on online forums, following their conservations and activities on social media, and prevent the spread of radicalizing materials from specific websites. In addition to that, enacting laws at national level to punish the ones using the Internet to provoke the public, recruit and train, and propagandize can identify terrorists and prevent a potential attack.

6.7:Government assistance :

Governments can give assistance to media organs by giving the political context and background of any terrorism-related act or story, as it is ideally the ultimate goal of the media to correctly inform the audience. To this end, a government-media partnership that is better informing the public, refuting the arguments of terrorists, and depriving them of the publicity they need can be formed.

  1. Conclusion:

Terrorism is a category of political violence, which is intended to influence foreign and domestic governments, as well as communities. Terrorism uses its immediate victims and material targets for semiotic and symbolic purposes (Lewis 2005). Attacks are designed to create an atmosphere of fear or a sense of threat. In the same vein, terrorism can also refer to politically motivated deeds perpetrated by groups or individuals for the sake of communicating messages to a larger audience (Nacos 2002a). In any case, the terrorists’ need for media publicity and media’s need for a greater audience and profits form a symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the media.

This symbiosis is not inevitable. Implementing certain policies that are different than the previous failed policies can facilitate the breaking of that cycle by forcing at least one side of the equation–the media–to act in a more responsible, more conscious, and more cooperative manner. Only then starving the terrorists of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend can become possible and more robust steps can be taken to win the ideological and actual battle against terrorism.

 

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Ratnesh Dwivedi Institutional Representative of SECINDEF (Security Intelligence and Defense) Israel-USA International Consulting Counterterrorism in the India and collaborating analyst of OCATRY (Observatory against the Terrorist Threat and the Jihadist Radicalization) Scholar,Amity School of Communication,Amity University,Uttar Pradesh,India.