Terrorism

Terrorism and the Media "If the media were not there to report terrorist acts and to explain their political and social significance...terrorism as such would cease to exist," said John O\'Sullivan, an editor of the Times of London.1 This is also the way many other people feel about the recent increase in terrorist activity; they feel that the media is causing it. The media is doing this by fulfilling the terrorists\' need for publicity.2 Terrorists need media publicity in order to get their views spread to the public.3 Because of this need for publicity, terrorists are committing their acts of terrorism in areas where a lot of publicity will be gained; the United States and Western Europe are the most recent targets. The bombings of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the Olympic Centennial Park in Atlanta are current examples of terrorists seeking publicity in the United States.4 Terrorists\' need for publicity has been around for a long time, but new media technologies are causing the problem to grow faster than ever.5 Terrorism is growing at an impressive rate of 12 to 15 percent per year.6 The media cause many problems besides helping terrorists. They inspire more terrorism to happen, cause terrorist attacks to be bigger, cause problems with authorities, and cause ineffective laws to be passed. To solve these problems, government censorship and self-regulation have been suggested. Government censorship involves the government controlling what the media can report; there has been controversy over this because it could take away many American freedoms. Self-regulation involves the media controlling themselves. Because of the way the media are currently covering terrorist events, many serious problems are occurring; if the media do not voluntarily change their ways, government regulations could be enacted.7 Although debates over how to solve the problems are relatively new, terrorists\' use of publicity has been around for many years. When a terrorist has publicity as his main goal, he is known as a "modern" terrorist; this type of terrorism has been around for a long time, but not until around 1968 was it widely known. Most people connected terrorism with "classical" terrorists. This kind of terrorism is used in the time of war; there is no goal of publicity. All they want to do is intimidate the opposition. The FLN in Algeria are labeled as this type of terrorist. They once killed many of their enemies by bombing a bar that many of their enemies were in; this activity shows how classical terrorists intimidate the opposition.8 Even though "classical" terrorism has not changed much, "modern" terrorism has changed greatly over time. The way in which terrorists have gained publicity is very different. Late nineteenth century Southern lynch mobs and Central American death squads did not even use the media to gain their publicity. They just used their victims as examples to others who might disobey their rules.9 As times changed, terrorists began to publicize their views in books, pamphlets, underground newspapers, etc. This technique allowed them to reach a bigger audience. It was mostly used by terrorist groups during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Terrorist groups often contained a printer and a writer who together would make sure their views were publicized; the groups did not have to rely on an outside force to publicize for them.10 As new media technologies were invented, the terrorist groups were able to publicize their views to a bigger audience than they had ever imagined possible.11 The only problem was that they could not rely on people in the group to publicize for them; it would be almost impossible for a terrorist group to own a television or radio station. The only way they could get a piece of the new technology was to "create news." This is what most terrorists do today; they stage an event that will gain news coverage and then try to get their views publicized by threatening drastic actions.12 This strategy of terrorism is causing the media to produce many serious problems. One problem with the media\'s coverage of terrorism is that it can inspire future acts of terrorism. This is called the "contagion hypothesis."13 This is caused mostly because the actual acts of terrorism usually receive more media attention than the punishments. People