Terrorism and the Mass Media

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Terrorism and Mass Media

What makes someone so powerful that if they were murdered, they would be labeled as assassinated? A similar question can be asked to that of terrorism--when can an act of violence properly be called "terrorism"? In the wake of 9/11, then President Bush declared war against terrorism but just who specifically he was referring to is still being debated today. However, one piece of the puzzle in making that determination is the use of mass media to combat terrorism. Definitions of terrorism is abound but the general consensus is that terrorism is a criminal act that puts people in a state of terror and/or uses force or violence. The observation that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter frequently can be applied to statements about terrorist actions made by both governments and mass media. The media is becoming increasingly competitive and commercial pressures are complicated by the fact that many top executives come from the corporate world and no longer from the ranks of journalists.

Television has become the leading news medium, with newspapers only supplementary to TVs instant, live, emotional coverage. Events produce strong pictures that consequently go to the top of the news hierarchy. The emotional shocks of these pictures are what sell. Terrorists know that if they get the attention of the mass media that they have promoted their cause, whatever it might be. Walter Laqueur said that "the media are the terrorist's best friends,…the terrorists' act by itself is nothing, publicity is all." Research has demonstrated that a link between media coverage of terrorism events and the creation of traumatic reactions from those who view them. Viewers not only react in fear of further victimization, but they also undergo a desensitization, to depictions of violence and reduced concern for its victims.

The free press is the primary conduit connecting terrorists, the public, and governments....
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