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
and 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
social 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
to 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