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Terrorism and Media Role

Terrorist groups have lately realized that violence alone is not the best recourse to gaining an overall victory for their cause. Sophisticated terrorists organizations like TTP (Tehreek – e- Taliban Pakistan) and Al-Qaeda, realize that in addition to violence, propaganda is needed for the successful orchestration of their activities. Whether it is television, radio or the internet, terrorist organizations understand that these instruments are valuable in instilling fear, panic and devastating psychological effects on a governments and citizens.

Recently, three workers associated with Express News television were killed when unidentified attackers of Tehreek – e- Taliban Pakistan opened fire on a DSNG (digital satellite news gathering) van in Karachi’s Nazimabad area.

“We (TTP) accept responsibility. I would like to present some of its reasons: At present, Pakistani media is playing the role of (enemies and spread) venomous propaganda against Tehreek-e-Taliban. They have assumed the (role of) opposition. We had intimated the media earlier and warn it once again that (they must) side with us in this venomous propaganda,” TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Express News.

Terrorist attacks are useless if no one knows about them. As the old saying goes: "a picture is worth a thousand words".  Images, especially video images, of bombed buildings, bloody corpses and frightened hostages are much more memorable than print or audio reports of the same incidents. Committing and claiming responsibility for a terrorist attack is one of the most effective ways to obtain free global publicity for one's cause.

Other than the internet and printed material, terrorist have sought out other means in broadcasting their ideologies. All terrorist organizations need a large audience, and they have learned to exploit the media's own procedure to maximize their reach. In executing violent acts, terrorist organizations hope to draw attention through news media which broadcasts their violent activities across the country and as well as across the globe.

Media also gives a twisted version of a celebrity status to these individuals. Broadcasting their names and pictures across the screen and giving them credit for these heinous acts serves only to inflate warped egos. If the media stops giving credit and attention to the perpetrators and instead focuses on the heinous nature of the attack and the plight of the families of the dead and injured, it might take away from the terrorist’s inherent need for publicity.

The aim of the terrorist organizations is to be treated like regular, accepted, legitimate world leaders. According to the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan “the media must mend its behavior and do balanced reporting, which is impartial, which is transparent and not tainted with propaganda”

The media may directly or indirectly serve the interests of terrorists by simplifying stories for the viewer to the point that it has little to do with the actual events. Repeating the traumatizing scenes and stories may also serve terrorists, as the goal of the terrorists is to be in the media as often and long as possible.

The one thing that is indisputable is that Pakistani media feeds on the violence of terrorism acts; whoever can tell the most violent story wins the audience. This is not really about freedom of speech, but rather a morbid desire to acquire the biggest audience and consequently harvest the capitol benefits.

In a nation where the government maintains tight control of the media like China or North Korea, terrorist tactics are nearly useless.

Following recommendations can be implemented to minimize the media-related effects of terrorism:

●     News coverage with less repetition of horrific scenes, less dramatization, less sensation and more information are essential in the first place

●     The media should present story to the audience fairly and accurately without bias, so that the audience can make their own opinion of the news and/or story.

●     To avoid panic in audience, Media should use plain language that everybody can understand.

●     Since no terrorist group is alike, the media should differentiate between different types of terrorism and terrorist groups

●     Government-media partnership should be formed for better and accurate background of any terrorism-related act.

Terrorist attacks are designed to create an atmosphere of fear or a sense of threat. In any case, the terrorists’ need for media publicity and media’s need for a greater audience and profits.

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