De Facto Allies in Magnifying Unwarranted Impact?
Some eminent writers and scholars argue that too often the media helps promote terrorists' agenda. Others, however, have a different opinion. I tend to go with the former, and in this short Paper, will show how terrorism can be seen from at least two perspectives, those of the victim and the perpetrator. Using three examples, I will prove that the media would not mind terrorist acts coming up on their own on the agenda, however distasteful and disagreeable they may seem. Terrorists cannot thrive without the media, and I will bring out the obvious: The media suits the interests of both parties.
Keywords: terrorism, media, perspectives, casualties, infidels, television ratings
The horrific events of 9/11 brought terrorism centre stage. Terrorism had existed well before that date, but remained largely underplayed, till Uncle Sam got bearded in his own den for the first time since their war of independence way back in 1875-83. Over 99% of the American people have no idea of the ravages of war and what it can do to a targeted nation. Without attempting to add to the plethora of definitions of terrorism, let me just say that there is a fundamental difference in the way it is seen, related purely to perspective. The victim and the perpetrator portray an incident affecting them quite differently.
For example, US media might say, “Terrorists detonated a bomb near the camp of the U.S. peacekeeping forces, causing numerous U.S. military casualties.” Arab media would report it as: “Freedom fighters detonated a bomb near the base of the crusaders. The tremendous blast killed and severely injured many infidels.”
A free press is a mandate in a democracy. If the content available was not salutary, the media would still report it. Terrorism uses this mandate to further its own aim by spreading fear. A terrorist organization actually needs the media to spread information about localized attacks as widely as possible. In the cause of reporting, or at times, hogging the limelight, the media does exactly what the terrorist wants. Paradoxically, terrorism has become a boon for the media, because such attacks make television ratings surge. “Terrorist acts are well calculated, always played to an audience and specific tactics employed to maximize impact.”
There are people who feel that the media brings the world up to date and educates people about the ills of terrorism and how it is crucial to lend a hand against this ugly monster. I do not agree and believe that the media is only interested in its ratings, ‘damn the consequences’. I will use three examples to support my argument.
Since 1960, advancement in technology had affected the media greatly, giving it a face and voice, not just events reported on black and white paper. The nature of terrorism reporting had also evolved simultaneously. While aimed to promote terror in a larger target audience, terrorism often aims to recruit more supporters. The media is the conduit to both these aims. Terrorism ‘relies almost exclusively on psychological “warfare” for its intended impact. Victims of an attack are the signal that is amplified and broadcast, terrorizing the target audience into capitulating to the terrorists demands’. “Terrorists are not interested in three, or thirty – or even three thousand - deaths. They allow the imagination of the target population to do their work for them. In fact, the desired panic could be produced by the continuous broadcast of threats and declarations – by radio and TV interviews, videos and all the familiar methods of psychological warfare.”
Terrorists have four media-dependent objectives when they strike or threaten to commit violence. The first is: Gain attention, intimidate, create fear. The second is: Recognition of the organisation’s motives. Why they are carrying out attacks? The third is: Gain the respect and sympathy of those in whose name they claim to attack. The last is: Gain a quasi-legitimate status and media treatment at par with legitimate political actors.” Many cases confirm that ‘getting attention through the media is important terrorist strategy. The 7 July 2005 London bombings on the transit system in London is one example, with the G-8 summit on in Scotland. The terrorists pushed the G-8 leaders off the front pages’.
The Palestinian terrorist organisation Black September attack on Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic Games 1972, when people around the world were watching the Games and large numbers of newspaper and broadcast journalists had gathered, is another example. A hostage situation and a rescue attempt ensued, closely covered by all media, and watched by approximately 800 million people throughout the world. The terrorists “monopolised the attention of a global television audience. “Black September undoubtedly chose Munich at the time of the Olympics because the technology, equipment, and personnel were in place to guarantee a television drama that had never before been witnessed in the global arena.”
The images of attacks like 9/11, can inspire awe. For instance, “after 9/11, Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden have become more popular in the Muslim community.” “Simply by showing that he and his kind could land a devastating blow against the US on home ground, bin Laden conditioned a large number of young Muslim men – mainly in the Muslim diaspora in western Europe – for recruitment into his cause without ever meeting them.”
The Internet can be and has been used terrorists for cyber-terrorism, coordination of plans, communication with cells, or propaganda and information. That they can now manage their own media is not the only advantage they have in using the Internet. Higher bandwidth, a product of advancing technology, allows them to display their acts in real time, magnifying the ‘Dread Factor’ multifold.
“There are other advantages in using the Net. The audience is enormous; it is easy to access and stay anonymous, it is incredibly fast and inexpensive, and it offers a multimedia environment, which means that text, graphics, video, songs, books, and presentations can all be combined. In addition, regular media now often report on or even copy Internet content, which means that both old and new media can be influenced by using the Internet alone.” Weimann, 2004.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?