Terrorism is a complex and subjective issue and one of the most disputed concepts in the social sciences. The general public largely misunderstands this idea. It leads to pointless disagreements and moving discussions. There is no consensus on this concept as it is a much broader term, having diverse perspectives. Terrorism has always existed in many forms since its existence.
It can be somehow defined by considering some particular perspectives and scenarios. Thus, terrorism can be defined as “the politically motivated deliberate use of violence against unarmed civilians to create long-term fear in society”. After Cold War, significant issues under consideration included terrorism on the top. 9/11 terrorist attacks entered the world into a new era of terrorism.
Use of Media by terrorists
Terrorism is a form of persuasive communication. It uses many platforms to spread its ideological violence and objectives worldwide. Terrorists use and exploit media networks from all across the globe to spread violence and propaganda to their target audiences. Terrorist organizations use media for three primary purposes:
- To gain the attention of the public.
- To acquire sympathy for its cause.
- To propagate its agenda and irrational terror or fear to influence policy-making and politics of the state.
As media outlets and platforms expanded with the development of technology, terrorists were able to reach a bigger audience. They propagated their objectives and fears across the globe. Thanks to the media’s expanding role in supporting terrorism, terrorist organizations have been able to cross geographical boundaries.
Terrorism and media have a symbiotic relationship (mutually benefitting each other).
- The media has a reputation for being an “accomplice” of terrorism and giving it “oxygen of publicity.”
For example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks by a terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda, got a “snowball effect” via media platforms.
- In addition, terrorism helps the media for selling their news products by providing emotional, violent and, exciting news, increased ratings and, circulation.
Is the media responsible for PKK terrorism?
Turkey has been facing terrorist attacks like many other states for years. In the Security Bureaucracy of Turkey, prominent leaders are questioning the role of media in the continuously progressing PKK terrorism over the last 40 years. They have critically asked, “If the media had reported more responsibly, avoiding exaggeration, would PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) terrorism have been able to continue for such a long time?”
Terrorist violence intends to provoke fierce and immediate reactions. Terrorism through media is fostering many extremists and unaffiliated individuals, giving birth to new violent ideas and actions. These people have developed more violent strategies that can cause massive havoc to societies, nations, and states.
Following this, the US has experienced this generation that Al-Qaeda inspired. Some Americans left Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia to train and join other terrorist organizations. There was a man among them who became a Muslim and was able to reach Pakistan. He was Bryant Neal Vinas, who joined Al-Qaeda. He got involved in many attacks against coalition forces providing Al-Qaeda insight into homeland attacks, including the target of his homeland area, The Long Islands’ Rail Road.
Threat Imposed by Terrorists on Media
Using media as a tool by terrorist organizations has posed substantial threats to journalists and other media professionals. Recently, journalists and other media professionals have faced significant challenges covering terrorist attacks.
The Council of Europe has set comprehensive standards, and the European Court of Human Rights case law elaborates specific objectives for journalists. Journalists are responsible for covering accurate and thorough information regarding terrorism. Still, terrorists have violated their fundamental rights of freedom, expression, and life by preventing them from covering highly sensitive, informative, and accurate scenarios.
Shahid Zehri Case
History is replete with instances where journalists and other media members have faced such threats, abductions, and cruel treatment, even to death. Here I am quoting an example of Shahid Zehri. He was a reporter for a local TV channel. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist rebel group considered a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for his assassination.
Decreased power of Media
With time, due to digital media, classical journalism is getting much weaker. A blogger who elaborates on the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in an understandable way gets millions of views within seconds. Terrorist threats and their variating tactics are detrimental to the nature of information and scenarios and their coverage.
As the professor of the Criminology department at Michigan State University “Steven Chermak” said, “With social media, not only is the information immediately, but the public’s access to information and conversations shape how an event is talked about, this can be dangerous when we can’t discern fact from a panicked reaction”.
Brand Culture Theory
Since the introduction of social media, terrorist organizations’ operations have taken advantage of this to further their objectives. By using social media platforms, they can easily approach the whole globe from their fingertips and utilizes.
For instance: ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is a Sunni jihadist group with a violent ideology of calling itself a caliphate of the Muslim World. It used social media for recruitment, raising funds, spreading propaganda, and facilitating public terror and fear. Moreover, it used social media to convert its organization into a Brand by relying on the “Brand Culture” theory.
What role should Media play?
Contrary to this, media can also play an essential role in countering terrorism. In this era of globalization and digitalization, the media offers unique opportunities for intelligence agencies to confront terrorism. The identification and exploitation of the possibilities of the terrorists, both tactical and strategic, will positively pave the way towards critical benefits to the governments globally for confronting global terrorism.
Effective social media interactions can break up the networks that support terrorists. Social network analysis will be helpful as it includes techniques to analyze the communication between various terrorist groups. Destruction of the financial services of the media itself will happen if it participates in the investigation of terrorist financing.
Role of Government
Governments should play a vital role in checking the media outlets and the content prevailing on these outlets. Moreover, governments should also ensure the safe usage of the media by giving it the freedom to cover authentic information and protect its respective media platforms and their rights from threats and attacks.
In conclusion, since the 9/11 incident, the threat environment has changed dramatically. It will continue to change in the upcoming years. The role of media is vital in policy-making and nation-building. By fully realizing its duties and responsibilities, it should work for the achievement of valuable standards like justice, truth, provision of accurate and authentic information irrespective of threats, and any sponsorship. It should demolish the ways of destroying the public’s perception by preventing the propagation of illegal and unauthentic information. Destruction will happen to many countries and states if the media’s function in society does not achieve this.
The writer is currently acquiring a Bachelor's degree in International Relations at the School of Politics & International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.