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What To Do?: Terrorism and the Media

Imagine you are a resident of Jerusalem, in the year 60 AD. You are taking a walk throughout the marketplace doing your weekly shopping. You see a man pull out a dagger and he yells death to all Romans’ and attacks a roman guard, killing him in front of hundreds of spectators. The assassin quietly slips into the crowd and is lost in a sea of people never to be found. The word of the attack spreads and soon it is the talk of the town. Many more attacks on Romans are made by the Sicarii and the Zealots.

Sympathizers of the Romans slowly disappear and their voices vanish from Jerusalem. The fear of terrorism grows nd Roman repression grows along with it, this in turn leads to the people of Jerusalem to revolt in 70 AD (Miller V). If this attack had been made in some dark alley with no spectators would the people react the way they did? The marketplace of old Jerusalem, can be compared to the media of today. What better place to get the public informed about your reasons and purpose for attacks than the news.

Albert gave a good definition of terrorist’s objectives when he stated: “Terrorists try to exercise influence over targeted officials on nations through intimidation of the public and arousal of sympathy for the ocial and political causes they espouse. Without widespread publicity, terrorist acts can achieve neither of these effects” (Bandura, Albert qtd. In Nacos 1). Terrorists need the news media to get the publicity, and the media is a willing accomplice.

The news media is an accessory to terrorism, and as such they should develop a set of standards that will limit the terrorist ability to get their message out to a large audience during terrorist situations; Also the media should also point out police mistakes without over emphasizing them, giving equal coverage to both sides of the issue. Terrorism is the use of violence against innocents to bring about political change through fear. It is a combination of indoctrination and drama.

The relationship between terrorism and the media is symbiotic. As terrorists require widespread attention, the media needs news (Miller v-vi). Terrorism in effect is a from of advertisement of the terrorists goals and what they want accomplished. In 1980 the New York Times printed a total of 916 articles on terrorist events. That means that terrorists were getting their message out nearly three times a day to the American public(Miller 60). Terrorists have usually used the media for four main reasons.

The first reason is to have their message heard and strike fear into their target group. The second is to win over the publics support for their cause, by highlighting themes like, the righteousness of their cause, and the assuredness of their victory. Third they use media to disrupt government and security responses, by suggesting that they are ov erreacting, and their efforts are counterproductive. Finally the fourth is to raise the moral of their current members, raise recruitment, and encourage more attacks (Alexander 30-31).

John O’ Sullivan gave this quote about media and terrorism, “If the media were not there to explain their political and social significance [their goals and motives], terrorism would cease to exist” (Nacos 48). With all the interaction between the media and terrorism an option being considered by many governments is censorship of media’s coverage of terrorist events. During many terrorist incidents the police do not want all the information that they have gathered to be released, for fear of the publics safety, and the security of their future actions.

One motive of terrorists is o sway the publics belief in police forces dealing with the terrorist incident. For that reason the printing of damaging articles and stories requires some restraint (Alexander 36). An example of the media needing restraint occurred on April 30, 1980, when a group of Arab secessionists captured the Iranian embassy in London. As the SWAT teams began to move in their biggest advantage was the element of surprise. But, that was almost destroyed by a cameraman from British ITV (Independent Television) who got past the police barricade and broadcast a live assault on the embassy.

One can only speculate what would have happened if the terrorists had been watching the television (Miller 28). Complete and total censorship is not the answer. Schmid put it well in his book Violence as Communication when he said: In many countries it is likely that the level of terrorism will increase rather than decrease after the introduction of terrorism. The increase is due to the fact that… [terrorist] groups will feel freer to engage in terrorist actssince they can count on not being exposed and criticized by the local media.

The mass terrorism of Hitler and Stalin was possible because the people were ot fully aware of what was going on. Government imposed censorship on news of terrorism can, in our view, be a cure that is worse than the disease. (150) A total blackout of media’s coverage of terrorist events is not necessary, if the media will reform its procedure for covering terrorist activities. A leader in this movement of self-censorship is CBS. CBS has set up a list of guidelines that all the reporters must follow during terrorist situations (Alali 10).

One option for the media to take is that there should be a consensus of standards for covering terrorism stories. There are several parts to this consensus and they are as follows: don’t over exaggerate events that are already sensational; the media should paraphrase terrorist demands so they do not get all their political messages out; also they should not broadcast live coverage of terrorist situations unless the head of the news department allows it.

News reporters should also have permission to talk with terrorists, and if there is permission these interviews should not interfere with the ongoing negotiations. The reporters should also be attentive to the warnings and orders of law nforcement officials on the scene (Paletz 108). When all the media can set a standard to live by a total blackout of coverage will not be needed. But, if a total blackout of media’s coverage of terrorist events becomes policy, many believe that there will be abuses made by the police forces, that will go unreported to the public and the proper authorities.

There are mistakes that the police forces make that need to be brought out and made known to the public and the courts, so proper actions can be taken. Liberal democrats believe that the police is responsible for the publics scrutiny through the news media. It is believed by most of the media that they should not make accusations that the police can not respond to for legal reasons. Police agencies feel that reporting, exaggerations, and the threat of due dates should not drive the content of news stories. They wish for equal coverage of the terrorism and police actions.

The police also require support of society and to get it they need the support of the media, this aids them in their counterattacking of terrorism. The police admit that their actions are not the only ones which will resolve the problem, but both the police and the media re committed to the maintenance of democracy, and how they act reflects that commitment (Alexander 36). An example of when the police agencies fowled up a hostage situation was in 1972, at the Munich Olympics. There were more press at that incident then at any other terrorist attack in history.

When the hostages were moved to a local Airport the police made several mistakes which led to the deaths of nine hostages and one policeman. (Miller 96). The press was there to cover those mistakes and bring them to the public’s attention. If there was no media around these events would never have been reported and would have been ong forgotten and those at fault would never have been reprimanded for their mistakes. Despite all of their mistakes being made public the police do not wish for a total blackout of media coverage during terrorist events.

The police believe that the media can be a very helpful tool in helping them combat terrorism. The media is a powerful tool for vanquishing rumors, clearing up misinformation, and combat fear (Miller 7). While the media can sometimes hinder the police it is also a great asset their for their disposal in combating terr orism. In conclusion, when the media emphasizes terrorist events it helps to acilitate two of the universal goals of terrorist. The first is that the terrorists gain publicity and attention is drawn to their cause.

The second is that when the media shows events and over exaggerates it influences public attitudes about the root of their politically motivated violence. Brian M. Jenkins summed up what terrorism is when he said “Terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not the actual victims. Terrorism is theater” (Jenkins, Brian M. qtd. In Nacos 75). Total censorship of terrorist events is not the cure, it will lead to abuses by the police forces handling the cases. The only solution s that the media needs to work out a set of morals that they follow when they are covering terrorist actives.

They need to be objective giving equal weight on the terrorist activities and the police forces dealing with the terrorists. They should not place too much emphasis on the police mistakes, while bring them ou t into the public. The media needs to remain subjective and not let either the terrorists or the law enforcement take control of what they report Theodore H. White sums it up with this statement ” power in America today is control of the media of communication” (White, Theodore H. qtd. In Nacos 16).

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