Terrorism and the Mass Media After Al Qaeda: a Change of Course?

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Peace & Conflict Review Volume 3, Issue 1 ISSN: 1659-3995

Terrorism and the Mass Media after Al Qaeda: A Change of Course? Reviewed by Jessica Baran Abstract Manuel R. Torres Soriano. Terrorism and the Mass Media after Al Qaeda: A Change of Course? Athena Intelligence Journal Vol. 3, No 1, (2008), pp. 1-20.

Soriano begins his exploration of the relationship between media and terrorism with the words of Marshall McLuham, whose statement that “without communication, terrorism would not exist” is taken by Soriano to be “relatively precocious”, but essentially correct. Though terrorism existed prior to mass media, Soriano argues that it was always about making a public statement, and that new technologies have simply allowed the dissemination of terrorist messages to reach a broader audience with a more concise message. It seems fair to say that there exists a mutually beneficial relationship between terrorists and the media of today. According to Brigitte Nacos, one of the scholars that has most studied this issue, terrorists commit violent acts looking for three universal objectives: to get attention; to gain recognition; and to obtain a certain degree of respect and legitimacy. These objectives are attainable for those individuals who are capable of receiving the most media coverage. However these universal objectives seem too simplistic in regards to the complexity of terrorism and the media. These objectives can be achieved outside of violent acts, thus there must be reference to violence and the symbiotic relationship between media and terrorists. Modern terrorism and TV logic This article first focuses on the TV media. It argues that this media relies heavily on the visuals it can collect for a story and the less sensational the visuals for the story the less important the story becomes to the television news media. Terrorists carefully select the places in which they carry out their attacks in order to provide the best media coverage. The obvious example of this is the 9/11 attacks in New York, where media of all sorts were able to cover the story immediately. Not only were the media able to capture this incredibly visual attack, but the people who were in New York, residents and tourists alike, were also able to document this event with sensational pictures, videos and personal stories. An important thing to keep in mind here, that Soriano does not mention, is that Al Qaeda has never officially taken responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, though it is the common belief that this organization is behind the attacks. The simple action of not taking responsibility may indeed go against an argument that television coverage of this event was an important motive. The article goes on to explain that terrorists also recognize that media is a fast paced industry where interest in stories is lost quickly. There needs to be a certain novelty behind stories that are covered, so it is argued that this influences what the next terrorist act may be. There is trust in what one can see, so the television media automatically receive a level of trust that other media do not. However, being that the story is visual, a story that is occurring in the world with no visuals to go along with it could receive little to no coverage by the television news media, even if it is a story that could potentially have an influence on other important regions. Soriano goes on to examine the television media’s strong tendency to “personify” the stories they cover.

Peace and Conflict Review · Volume 3 Issue 1 · Year 2008 · Page 1

Soriano goes on to examine the television media’s strong tendency to “personify” the stories they cover. Making their stories more relatable to the general public by humanizing the people involved within the news story creates the ability for the watcher to become more personally involved, even if they are buying into a cliché. It can be ascertained, then, that the better the terrorist organization understands...
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