Media and Terrorism

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Terrorist acts are widely covered in the media, so much so that questions arise as to whether or not the extensive coverage is precisely what the terrorists want. The unspoken question here seems to be, does this kind of media reporting encourage terrorist attacks? I also want to explore another question, namely, if no one reported on the attacks, would they stop? I intend to discuss these questions and try to determine if, by covering terrorist attacks in depth, journalists are subconsciously fulfilling the terrorists' desires for publicity, attention and justification.

Communications and Terrorism Today

Until fairly recently, communications were limited. But with the improvements in telecommunications, particularly satellites, and the spiral of the Internet, the world is suddenly much smaller. Now there are “live broadcasts from anywhere on the globe” giving terrorists “the widest publicity for their spectacular violent acts” (Nacos, 1994). Nacos continues, “While international terrorists stage their violence primarily if not exclusively for publicity, media coverage is only the means by which these perpetrators try to promote and realise their various goals.”

However this can be questionned because Nacos bases this view on the assumption that terrorists do what they do for publicity. Although this seems questionnable as killing inncocent people and children surely can't just be for publicity and to be notices. It is therefore we understand the correct meaning of terrorism.

The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" (Flaherty, 2003). We tend to think of terrorists as young Middle Eastern men, but they are only part of the picture. In the U.K. the IRA is a terrorist group, and in the U.S. the KKK can legitimately be described as such a terrorist organisation.

Flaherty says terrorists are “extremist groups with political agendas; their goal is to impose their views on others … All have a dream of what they consider to be an ideal society, and all believe that this ideal is achievable in reality, if only they can establish control” (Flaherty, 2003). Terrorists try to establish that control by intimidating others, which is why they strike randomly, and at civilian targets, because they know that doing so creates “a climate of fear and uncertainty” (Flaherty, 2003). They choose symbolic targets (the World Trade Center as a symbol of America's economic power, the Pentagon as its military center) because it hurts when symbols are destroyed, and makes it seem as if nothing is safe (Flaherty, 2003). It seems uncorrect then to claim that the terrorists stage attacks to create publicity. Clearly their aims are much broader, namely the imposition of their ideology on an entire society. But Nacos does have a point when he says the central question of the debate is this: “Does the press unwittingly help terrorists to further their goals?” (Nacos, 1994).

This brings about the question, are the goals of terrorists such that they cannot succeed without publicity? Nacos: “First, international terrorists seek attention by spreading fear and anxiety among their target audiences. Moreover, by staging shocking events terrorists demonstrate the impotence of a targeted government to prevent and protect its citizens from terrorism” (Nacos, 1994). It would seem that an attack would provoke this reaction no matter whether it was publicized or not. He continues, “… these groups … seek recognition of their demands, their grievances, and their causes” (Nacos, 1994). Here we can begin to see why they feel publicity is necessary, since they “seek recognition” and that means as many people as possible have to be aware of the attack. Nacos also believes that terrorists seek “a degree of respectability and legitimacy in their target...
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