Political Science Terrorism and Media

1 January 2017

Terrorism has been affected by the media When can an act of violence, perpetrated by an individual or group properly be termed “terrorism”? This is a question passed over without due attention in everyday journalism. Jennifer Jane Hocking in her wok, noted, “Terrorism is a social construction, and once an action have been given that label, it becomes difficult to treat it in a value-neutral manner”.

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According to her, “Replete with implied moral opprobrium, a socially assigned value and meaning, an imputation of illegitimacy and outrage, ‘terrorism’ can never fit apparently value-neutral typologies much used in the social sciences… (Hockings 86).

An apparent definition of terrorism that has been deemed serviceable for most purposes is the definition of the United Nations General Assembly: Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes…whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them (Koh 148).

The language of the media in reporting acts considered “terrorism” and terrorist organized actions is extremely important, as any language used will set the parameters for public discourse. Since the phraseology and terminology of the insurgent terrorist groups and government officials are generally at odds, the media is forced to adopt words or phrases, which will generally be an acceptable way to express the idea in the public forum. Therefore, by inducing the media to accept their nomenclature, terrorist organisation or the counter-terrorist group has already an important psychological victory.

Most studies into the relationship between terrorism and the media have focused on the response of the media to terrorist actions (Briggitte). The relationship between the mass media and terrorism have generally be agreed to be ‘symbiotic’, in that insurgent terrorist groups use the media as a channel for their political message to be heard by the target audience, and supply ‘exciting news’ for the media (Nacos 48).

There perceived a mutually beneficial relationship between terrorists and the media. “Terrorism is theatre”, and terrorist plan attacks choreographed carefully, to attract the ttention of the media. In turn, “the media responds to these overtures with almost unbridled alacrity, proving unable to ignore what has been accurately described as ‘an event…fashioned specifically for their needs’ ” (Hoffman 174). Because of terrorism’s enormous emotional impact, there is often lack of neutral words with which to describe their actions. For example, few neutral nouns for journalists to describe an insurgent terrorist include, ‘terrorist’, ‘soldier’, ‘freedom fighter’, ‘criminal’, or ‘guerrilla’, require the journalist to make a moral judgement.

Often, journalists are forced to employ words, which seem to indicate a bias standpoint or neutral stance. In Janny de Graaf’s text, violence as communication, he argues, “When journalists use an insurgent terrorist as a source, the terrorist’s romantic language often seduces the journalist into unconsciously adopting it” (Alex and Janny 88). An example of this phenomenon occurred during the kidnapping and subsequent murder of former-Italian Premier Aldo Moro, when the editor of La Repubblica ran a headline, which seemed to be a paraphrase of a previous statement by the Red Brigade (Robin 90).

The terrorist organization had clearly excited the newspaper with their engaging language. The media does not only adopt the language of the terrorist. Janny de Graaf (65) pointed out that “‘in many cases’, the news media automatically adopts the nomenclature of the government. However, most commentators allege that the language of the government does not seduce the media; rather are intimidated by the government’s perceived information superiority (Edward 22). Terrorist using the media: Terrorists are not necessarily interested in the number of deaths; rather, they allow the imagination of the target population to do their work for them.

It is conceivable that terrorists could attain their aims without carrying out a single attack; the desired panic could be produced by the continuous broadcast of threats and declaration broadcasted through radio and TV interviews, videos and all the familiar methods of psychological warfare (Ganor). According to Gerges: The use of the media is so important for al-Qaida, that many within the organization have said that Bin Laden is “obsessed” with the international media, “a publicity hound”, and that he has “caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans, and applause” (194).

Gerge believes that more than half of terrorist battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. Without the media’s coverage, the terrorist act has minimal impact and is arguably a waste. The act remain narrowly confined to the immediate victim(s) of the attack rather than reaching the wider ‘target audience’ at whom the violence is actually aimed. Brigitte Nacos states that “Without massive news coverage the terrorist act would resemble the proverbial tree falling in the forest: if no one learned of an incident, it would be as if it had not occurred” (Nacos 175). The media are very well suited for the purposes of terrorists.

There are theories that explain part of this phenomenon. The two important media theories in this paper are agenda setting and framing. Agenda setting states that the more attention a media outlet pays to a certain phenomenon, the more importance the public attributes to such an issue. The theory of framing states that the way a news item is presented can have an influence on how it is interpreted or understood by the audience (Scheufele and Tweksbury 11). It is obvious that terrorist like to be on their audiences’ minds, and in a way that is as positive as possible. In using the media, terrorists have objectives.

Alexander (162) argues, “Terrorist groups have three purposes to interact with the media, namely attention, recognition and legitimacy (Alexander et al. 162). Albert Bandura notes, “that the media is used for moral justification, arousal of sympathy and intimidation of the public” (Bandura 172). Nacos combines these into one comprehensive framewok: Terrorists have four general media-dependent objectives when they strike or threaten to commit violence. The first is to gain attention and awareness of the audience, and thus to condition the target population (and the government) for intimidation: create fear.

The second goal is recognition of the organizations motives. They want people to think about why they are carrying out attacks. The third objective is to gain the respect and sympathy of those in whose name they claim the attack. The last objective is to gain a quasi-legitimate status and a media treatment similar to that of legitimate political actors (20). The importance of the objectives of using the media may differ from one group to the other. Different terrorist groups have different priorities. For some organizations, one of the objectives may not be an issue at all, or another objective is added.

Nonetheless, most of the perceived important objectives fall under Nacos’ statement. The statement is therefore useful in the question, ‘why and how terrorists use the media? ’ Gaining attention: Gaining attention is strongly linked to agenda setting. Terrorist groups try to be in the media as often and as long as possible, in order to become well known to the public. They attempt to influence media outlets so that in turn, they influence the audience by spreading the word on the existence of the organization. The terrorist get attention, people become aware of their existence, methods, and targets.

In fact, the terrorists deliver their propaganda by proxy. A major factor of this objective is to create fear among the target population. In fact, gaining attention is a factor in any terrorist’s agenda that the whole tactic of terrorism is based upon. This is why the media is used. The strategy to gain attention is meant, to an important extent, to intimidate the audience- and the target government- so that the threat to becoming possible victims of terrorist violence is enough to create fear, and thus to affect the policy making process.

Hoffman writes, “Only by spreading the terror and outrage to a much larger audience can terrorists gain the maximum potential leverage that they need to effect fundamental political change” (174). There are many examples that agree with this objective. This can be seen in the work of Nacos (20) when she mention the attacks on the transit system in London as an example of gaining attention by terrorist groups. After all, the attacks took place while the G-8 summit was held invariably next door, in Scotland. The terrorists took over the news and pushed the G-8 leaders off the front pages (Nacos, 20-21).

Establishing Motives for Attack: Terrorists do not only want to be known by their target audience, they also try to get their message of fear and panic across to their target audience through the help of the media. This is achieved sometimes by carrying out or attempting attacks. The audience then gets wondering why somebody would do certain things, especially when it involves suicide bombing. It becomes elusive why somebody would want to kill himself because he wants to take others with him. Hence to get to find out the reason why these people do this would be the next logical step for any curious audience.

In certain instances, the media actually buttresses their actions by comparing their strategies with those used by people who are considered to be more legitimate than terrorists, giving them some recognition. Some terrorists actually compel the media to relay their motivation to the public for instance, the 1976 TWA airplane hijack by terrorist, demanding that their motivation be made public by big-time newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, by dropping flyers across large cities. The newspapers had to agree and their statements were printed and scattered across cities as requested.

However in most of the cases, terrorists do not necessarily compel media outfits to feed the public with their motivations. Rather, this is done voluntarily by those media outfits, since motives for certain actions are really necessary for captivating story headlines. It actually provides an attractive alternative to actual ‘breaking news’ once there is no new news available to relay to the public. This was manifested in the TWA hostage taking of 1985 when several journalists poured into Beirut to have life coverage of the event.

According to Hoffman: As the hostage crisis dragged on day after day, at times with seemingly little or no progress toward a resolution, the vast media resources deployed for just this one story had to find or create ‘news’ to justify the expense and continued presence of the media personnel, even if no ‘real news’ was occurring (175). The media help terrorist groups in achieving their aim and objectives. Most media houses are interested in ‘making’ the news and so doing, give a lift to the terrorist crusade.

During a meeting organized by the Supreme Authority for Radio and Television the Turkish interior minister said: “We demand that the media re-examine their policy of covering terrorist attacks and ask them not to broadcast them in a way that might serve the aims of the terrorist organizations, even if they do so inadvertently” ( Bar’el,). This meeting was called because of the reaction by Prime Minister Erdogan Tayyip, who criticized the public media for the manner in which they report the attacks lunched by the Kurdish PKK rebels on the soldiers and ordinary civilians in turkey (Bar’el).

According to Erdogan; “who do they serve when they show the tearful mothers of the victims? Intentionally or inadvertently the media act as if they were supporters of the terrorist organizations” (quoted in Bar’el). Turkey is being faced with hard fight against the Kurdish terrorists since the announcement by the PKK that it had canceled the ceasefire agreement with the government. The unfolding incidents are pushing the Erdogan government into a tight corner because this attack has raised public outcry that the government is not doing enough to stop the terrorist attacks.

The prime minister who is scared that this wave of terror would be capitalized on by his political opponents to bring him down, has solicited the support of newspapers who support him by running political campaigns for him. It was proposed by Saba newspaper that, “the funerals of soldiers killed by terrorists should be covered in the most minimal way because people who have political agendas attend these funerals…and display their displeasure with the government. ”

He went on to say that it was necessary to respect the privacy of the families affected and not to publish them on the front of news papers. The ombudsman of Sabah is also not comfortable with the manner in which “breaking news” are published. Since they are done without proper editorial supervision, hence they have the potential of creating national panic. He says this in reaction to the fact that new flashes which brink instant report of terror attacks, could actually encourage terror, and to ombudsman, this could actually be a violation of the ethical code which suggests that new items that encourage terror or violence should not be made public.

Getting Sympathy and Respect: The target audience of the terrorists is not only to the would-be victims in whom they have to instill fear, but also potential supporters i. e. , people who believe in the same cause with. They have to impress their audience whom if they see that the group they believe in is able to impact on constituted political structure, they may become more sympathetic or respectful of the group. This even has some bearing on the previous objective, since if they are able to getting the media to do their bidding, they will be gaining more respect.

The memories and images of terrorist attacks have the ability of instilling awe, for example, for example, since the 9/11 attack carried out by Osama Bin Laden, his popularity grew so wide even until his eventual demise in the hands of the U. S. just by showing to the world that he is capable of dealing such a devastating blow on the U. S. , he was able to get so many Muslims both at home and in the Diaspora in western Europe to join his cause even without ever getting to meet them (Nacos, 22).

This is a very clear indication of ow a big media frenzy for terrorist activities can further the cause of terrorists, and this has been observed in eastern Europe after the 9/11 attack by Osama Conclusion It is not so easy establishing policies that govern the modus operandi of the global media, especially during peacetime. The media is generally unregulated globally. In countries where democracy is practiced, pressure from industry, and norms of the society work against such regulation. Most private media are self-regulated and work against every attempt to regulate their operations (Koh, 149).

Terrorism is a social construct, and once a particular action has labeled with that, it becomes quite difficult to treat it in a neutral manner (Hocking). The language with which the media reports terrorist ‘acts’ is very crucial, since any language used will determine the information will be discoursed by the public. Considering that the terminology and phraseology with which the government and terrorists groups communicate are quite different, the media is therefore compelled to adopt those that will be acceptable to the public.

Hence, inducing the media to accept their nomenclature, the terrorist or counter-terrorist group would have already established some level of psychological victory. The relationship between terrorism and the media is a closely knit one. In reporting terrorists activities sometimes the media actually end up helping their cause; although most times, they are compelled by terrorists groups to relay their message of terror or demands to their audience which usually include, those they those they need to instil fear into, and those they need to impress to gain their respect and sympathy.

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