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Media’s Role on Terrorism


Terrorism has been a major challenge affecting many nations all over the world. The media, on the other hand, is considered one of the factors that result in terrorism. Terrorism in respect to the media can be said to be a form of propaganda. It is a kind of persuasive communication and it can be seen to be the propaganda of actions (Cole, 2006).

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The aim of this study is to look at the relationship that exists between terrorism and the media. With the advancement in technology, it has been noted that terrorism goes hand in hand with the mass media and terrorists make every use of the media to carry out their intended purposes, both tactical and strategic. Without the media, terrorism would hardly have any meaning in our today’s world. However, the media tries to use the term “terrorism” less often and instead substitute it with more neutral terms like a rebel or paramilitary, or even guerrilla (White, 2006). This means that the media tries to publicize all forms of terrorism while at the same time omit the messages that the terrorists wish to have accompanied their actions, and hence reduce the extent of terrorism to look like any other kind of crime or sabotage.

Terrorism and propaganda

Terrorism and propaganda can be said to have common characteristics with respect to the role the media plays. According to Paletz (1992), they are both means of communication through the mass media and they are very persuasive in their intentions but less informative. Both propaganda and terrorism can be expressed in either verbal or non-verbal means and they are only intended to give information against one’s enemies. In most situations, the mass media will tend to pass messages related to terrorism or propaganda but will tend to use neutral terms for them.

Terrorism and propaganda while being related to the media may be said to be the deliberate use of violence or threat to the use of violence against a particular target in a conflict involving two or more persons or groups of people. In this case, where there is propaganda or terrorism, the conflicting parties must be two different entities. This implies that the victim and the target cannot be the same person(s) for there to involve propaganda or terrorism (Paletz, 1992).

How the press handles terrorism

According to Kern (1999), the media tries as much as possible to offer informative messages involving any kind of terrorist act that takes place in the world. Every kind of newspaper or press has its own means of bringing out the particular information with the different flavors that it may indicate. The press avoids the use of the term terrorism as much as possible while at the same time covering up as much information as possible. Whereas different nations may have different perceptions of which terrorists are, the information given by the different kinds of media in the world may vary for a particular terrorist story.

It has also been noted that even if terrorist cases are very frequent in our today’s world, the number of these cases that appear in the media is not as many (Kern, 1999). Research has shown that out of nine terrorist incidents, only one is reported by the press and since terrorism without publicity is meaningless, some scholars, therefore, argue that it is pointless to commit a terrorism incident in this kind of society. Society tends to have excessive control over its press and this creates rigidity in the kind of publicity that is given. According to Just (1999), the sense having terrorism incidents in the sense that it acquires as a result of it being publicized or from being broadcasted by the media and if it tends to gain and enjoy its authoritativeness because the media intends to maintain its neutrality, then terrorism has not much impact on the society and its success may not be felt. This is not unless it is a very spectacular or thrilling incident.

Hence, if terrorists intended to have a significant spotlight in the media, they had to increase their activities to make their assault spectacular. On the other hand, with the extent of the press control, terrorists may opt to escalate their actions in order to gain the desired attention of the media and this may have adverse effects on society in the long run (Cole, 2006). The wide range of terrorism all over the world may eventually be forcing themselves through the limits set by the media. It is through these limits set by the press that is forcing the terrorists to seize the broadcasting stations in many parts of the world in order to gain the public’s attention. This has been one of the major consequences of the media secrecy that is put in place to make terrorism appear a neutral activity and not as bad as it actually is (Just, 1999).

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Kern (1999) argues that there has been no known case in the modern society of terrorist activities intending to gain or seize the existing political power, and according to studies carried out; their main desire is to avoid being caught or if caught, look for ways of escaping punishment. The world hardly gets to know the actual struggle that terrorists put in their effort to create an impact on society. Terrorists hardly want to have their total realization of their cause; they would rather not achieve their goals so that they may be able to create other causes and in return gain publicity.

In this effect, the media always has a role to play in order to ensure that terrorism does not take over society even as it develops new causes. Society has the right to know all that is going on, the terrorists in their midst, the threats that they are prone to as well as what people are willing to sacrifice in order to overcome these activities. The media must be keen on knowing when people intend to support the terrorist attacks and when they are against it. This is because, there are possible situations that arise when the government or some people in the society may be giving support to terrorist causes, hence destroying a country’s democracy as they assume counter-terrorism (Kern, 1999).

On the other hand, the media must be keen on distinguishing between the need to inform its people and the need to fulfill people’s desire of being entertained. It is important that as it passes on the message on any form of terrorism, the media does not use entertainment at the expense of enhancing law and order or bringing out the dire consequences of terrorism. In modern society, terrorism in the media has become a form of entertainment and it has been argued that the mass media normally presents facts of terrorism, which people draw their own conclusions from (Just, 1999). However, the media must try to make their selection objective in order to ensure that the appropriate message is passed and the need to know should be placed first before the desire to entertain.

The role of the media in combating terrorism

With the extensive experience in news management, handling propaganda, distorted information, and unorganized techniques to create news or justify them as analysis, the need for a press that reports all events, both international and local as well as all political, socio-cultural, and economic events with maximum accuracy and with no form of bias is very important. This is one major way in which the media becomes a useful tool in helping people create their conclusions on the basis of actual facts and not on propaganda (Bruno, 2004).

Avoiding misrepresentation and manipulation of information by the media has helped a number of nations overcome the major terrorist activities that had been taking place in recent years. One major instance of this is the Gulf war that had been started in 1991 and the torments of Iraq in the 1990s. The news management on international coverage had been perfected and since there was hardly any form of bias or manipulation of information, the forces of these terrorist attacks were overcome. There was proper control of the media and other major news institutions through monopoly and this enhanced the extent of coverage of these activities, which then enabled people to be able to come up with objective conclusions.

The free market mechanism in today’s world has had a positive impact on the media, making it independent from other forces like the political and authoritative forces. Most media institutions have been able to create monopolies in their operations and this has facilitated news coverage all over the world (Brigitte, 2002). The mass media has tried to create its own limits on the extent of terrorism coverage and in this way, they are able to create the necessary barriers while avoiding any form of prejudicial information. According to Brigitte (2002), the mass media is trying to let facts speak for themselves by enhancing the accuracy of news presentations. This way, analysis of news presents all the facts and is hence presented in a way that it does not confuse the public in differentiating between news and opinions. Hence the reader or receiver of the news is able to come up with his/her conclusions without the possibility of interpreting information that is distorted.

The monopoly-controlled media as well as most democratic governments are aiming at heeding the continued desire for accurate news and they both have created the subordinate thinking of supporting the war against terrorism. The need for that kind of mass media that is able to address the concerns of the people is very critical in modern society. This is mainly because people desire to have facts that are presented to them without prejudice so that they too may join in the fight against terrorism (White, 2006).

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In conclusion, it can be argued that modern terrorism is in itself media terrorism. The media in our today’s world has become greatly attracted by all forms of terrorist attacks not just because it is its responsibility to report all the major events, but also because the major and spectacular activities of terrorism are of great interest to the public. Terrorists use this fact to act in a way that they will gain maximum publicity without necessarily having to achieve their desired goals.

It is important to note that terrorism ought not to affect the great importance of having the freedom of expression by the media, which is one of the fundamentals of a democratic society. The media should use this freedom to inform the public on all matters, including the existing terrorism activities and their threats, and also the manner in which the state is responding to these activities. On the other hand, the war against terrorism should not be used by the governments as an excuse to restrict the freedom of the media. Journalists should as much as possible avoid working in the favor of terrorists by putting a restriction on the passing of messages and graphics and creating over-sensational messages as well.


  1. Brigitte, N (2002). Mass-Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; New York.
  2. Bruno S (2004). Dealing with Terrorism, Stick or Carrot? Cheltenham; U.K.
  3. Centre of Excellence Defense against Terrorism, Centre of Excellence (2007).The Media: The Terrorists’ Battlefield; IOS Press; New York.
  4. Cole, B (2006). Conflict, Terrorism and the Media in Asia: Routledge, U.K.
  5. Just, M and Kern, M (1999). Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government and the Public; New York.
  6. Paletz, D and Peter, A (1992). Terrorism and the Media: Sage; University of California.
  7. White, J (2006). Terrorism and Homeland Security: Belmont: Wadsworth.

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