Wednesday 25 April 2012

The Role of the Media in Attacking Terrorism

In today’s world, there is hardly a day you will open any major newspaper or watch television without seeing a report on terrorism; those news is usually back with visual images, depicting the gory pictures of dead persons, maimed victims, collapse buildings as a result of the impact of bombs, and carcasses of vehicles at the scene of the incidents. Because of the limited knowledge of what constitutes an act of terrorism; some journalists are always quick to brand all types of violent incidents as an act of terrorism, including crimes of opportunities like armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder. In all these, terrorists benefit immensely from free media coverage, which help in propagating their messages.

Mallam Abubakar Shekau, Spiritual Leader of Boko Haram
One major objective of terrorist groups is to get maximum publicity for their terrorist act. The mass media through television has been an effective tool for terrorists because of the images and pictures they broadcast to the public. The images have so much influence on the public, the policy makers, and thereby influence both local and foreign policies. It is obvious that the violence and act of violence portrayed on the television consciously or unconsciously are set of opinionated view of the editor or television station, which may have serious control of how the public react.  The media is very powerful base on the image and pictures of violence been displayed all the time about terrorist activities.

The role of the media is very important in counterterrorism strategy. The big question is should the mass media give less publicity to terrorist activities? Of course, the denial of maximum coverage to terrorist violent activities will cut short the expectation of the perpetrators and make them not to achieve their main objective of using violence to create fear in the heart of the public.

There is no doubt in the fact that the major instrument of terrorism is media propaganda; any terrorist action without the media is of no effect on the targeted audience. Rather, the devastated effect would be restricted to the immediate victims of their dastardly deeds. According to Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert, he said in his book that “terrorism and the media are bound together in an inherently symbiotic relationship, each feeding off and exploiting the other for its own purposes.” The terrorist always wants to communicate their revolutionary or divine messages to a wide audience and they have recognized the potential of new mass communication technology.

On the other hand, the media want to compete in breaking such news without weighing the repercussion that such news may have on government policy. Of course, bad news is always good news for the media. Oludare Ogunlana argued in his opening speech at the 2nd Symposium on Combating Terrorism in Africa held in Accra on 31 March 2012 that “restricting the freedom of the press would not reduce its ability to be used by terrorist organizations and the trade off of freedom for lives is not a solution because the terrorist will further use it as blackmail against the liberal democracies,” said Ogunlana.

The media have always been condemned for making the job of the terrorist to be too easy because of the coverage and the emotion that arouse from the public. In fact, the former Prime Minister of the UK in her metaphoric expression described media as “the oxygen of publicity on which terrorist depend.”  The terrorists have mastered a method of using the media to manipulate the populace and arouse public emotions in order to influence government decision.

In support of Oludare Ogunlana’s argument, restricting the freedom of the press will be of no meaning in the present media age where the terrorist has discovered media as additional and important weapons in the sustenance of their struggle. In the past, especially during the cold war era, the terrorist organizations only rely on three principal methods of facilitating its communication process via the use of clandestine rebel radio stations, underground newspapers, posters, flyers and conventional, commercial, or state own mass media like television, radio and the press. However, the new media age has afforded terrorist organizations another opportunity to have their self media propaganda machines under their control.

Today, the modern terrorist organizations have access to the Internet, affordable video production and duplication process and the private, terrorist owned television stations. Osama Bin Ladin, before his death, maximized the opportunity of the new Media. He always sends his messages via the Internet and YouTube. Mallam Ibrahim Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria has been consistently using YouTube to send messages to the government and his followers.

In conclusion, in attacking modern terrorism, the media is very important. While media censorship is not the best on the side of the government; on the other hand, the traditional media operators must know the type of news and story that promote the objectives of the terrorists and the news that enhances the counterterrorism effort. Unfortunately, The Internet has expanded the terrorists’ theater of operation, allowing them to bypass the traditional media gatekeepers through the use of the cyberspace infrastructure. There is no doubt, the next war will be on the cyberspace; How prepare is Africa?


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