Terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

Mass media and terrorism have become ever more intertwined in a mutually beneficial relationship often described as 'symbiotic.' This column. Over the last two decades, the influence of the mass media has grown enormously. People from all over the world are now able to collect information about all. is a symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the media. Terrorists' response to terrorism, but that the mass media need to work harder at devising.

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

Around the Bataclan, Paris, November On its side, the mass media capitalizes from the confusion and consternation caused by terrorist attacks to produce the kind of dramatic news that draws the attention of its viewers and readers. As for extremists, they carefully calculate the scale, target, location, and timing of their assaults to stir ample media attention—or in other words, to generate advertisements for their messages on a global scale.

The broader and more prolonged the media coverage of terrorism turns out to be, the greater the terrorists' feelings of accomplishment, influence, and power.

As mentioned above, terrorists know all too well that the newsworthiness of their strikes is directly related to the site chosen, the number of casualties inflicted, and the type of act. Although these channels are proving useful for recruitment, the individuals who follow them tend to be already inclined to support the extremists' ideals and goals and do not trust the Western media in any case, which they see as the enemy.

Therefore, no matter how technologically savvy terrorists may become in the future, in order to reach a mass global audience it will always be crucial for them to obtain the mass coverage provided by global news channels.

The amount, focus, and tone of news coverage of terrorism can help stir the kind of public outrage that influences governments' responses to attacks.

This is a long way off from the advice given by the British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, who is himself a target of religious extremism inthe Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his assassination for blasphemy: In his book Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman pointed out that this coincided with a series of technological innovations that made it possible to send images cheaply and rapidly across great distances. Today the emergence of an array of new digital platforms has turned media competition into a fierce contest to capture people's shortening attention spans.

This has led to hyper-sensationalization in the way terrorist activity is reported, a tendency perhaps most apparent in television, still the general public's main source of information. TV has always had a love affair with drama and violence. The Easy Route of Sensationalism The ruthless nature of the news business can also be seen in the media coverage after the shocking first days of a terrorist attack.

Once the novelty of the strike wears off, news organizations race to be the first to broadcast or publish so-far undisclosed details of the police investigation.

To pick just two examples: Yet without the megaphone effect provided by the mass media, this information would not be so readily accessible to radical organizations and individuals planning to carry out lone-wolf assaults.

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

Even when the media praises security forces' efforts to prevent carnage, it could be hinting to radicalized minds how not to repeat their peers' mistakes. Of course, public news networks are less driven by the latter but are equally dependent on the former.

Terrorism and the Mass Media: A symbiotic relationship?

The media's readiness to focus on terror-related developments will continue for as long as journalists and editors have incentives to use emotionally powerful visuals and story lines to gain and maintain ever-shrinking news audiences.

His study found that in the two months following terrorist attacks in three major cities in November, there were articles about the attack in Baghdad; 1, articles about the one in Beirut; but over 21, about the widely-reported attack in Paris. Terrorist acts in Western Europe and North America are still a relatively unusual occurrence, so broadcasters and publications deploy the bulk of their resources to cover these tragedies. The media also know that its viewers and readers are more likely to relate and indentify with, to put it plainly, victims who look more like them.

The Need for Self-Restraint, but not China-style Censorship Global news organizations must strike a difficult balance.

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

The media performs several critical functions for society: An important caveat to note is that the media does not create terrorist organisations nor does it promote terrorism. The principal distinction to bear in mind is: Terrorism is a theatre. Information, here, is meant in the broader sense: Terrorism is a communicative act in the sense that it seeks to send a message to multiple audiences: Without this platform, the message of terrorist movements would not reach beyond its very immediate locale and therefore would remain unknown to most people outside the confined boundaries of the attack.

Bruce Hoffman explains the underlying impact of this symbiosis for terrorist organisations: However, attention economics suggest that escalation may simply continue if the aim is to maximise the increasingly scarce resource of attention. It is this vying for audience attention that makes it more appropriate to perceive terrorists as being more like theatre producers than army generals. Media-wise, terrorists are able to elicit attention by orchestrating attacks with the media as a major consideration.

They select specific targets, locations and timing of their planned attacks deliberately and according to media preferences, trying to satisfy the media criteria for newsworthiness. The attacks introduced a new level of mass-mediated terrorism because of the choices the planners made with respect to method, target, timing and scope. Terrorists also prepare visual aids for the media through means such as video clips of their actions, taped interviews and declarations, as well as press releases.

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

Their penchant for using images is vividly exemplified by the recording of beheading videos. Whereas these videos were previously filmed in dark rooms, produced to low-quality resolution, now such beheadings videos are filmed in the open and to a high standard of quality.

The videos are slicker, utilising cinematic effects, e. Social media has been criticised for creating echo chambers for vulnerable people who watch emotionally provocative videos.

In fact, media-savvy organisations like Daesh have taken the theatre of terrorism to new heights. It is hard not to conclude that terrorism judged on its own terms- as a way of getting attention and arousing alarm- has been a success. This contradicts the evidence that proves that most terrorist movements fade away without attaining their strategic goals.

Media Frames a Distorted Threat Perception of Terrorism The symbiotic relationship between terrorism and media produces a particular perception of terrorism as an existential threat to the security of Western countries. The media plays a critical role in producing the illusion that terrorism is an existential threat to the security of Western countries.

There is a difference between security and existential threats.


In many developing countries, the systematic effects of terrorism are real- e. The existence of actors with the capacity for violence other than the state is always a threat to state legitimacy and, under certain conditions, can precipitate civil conflict. However, the current terrorism threat posed to Western countries represents a security threat, not an existential threat.

It is because of the availability bias that perceptions of risk may be in error. Second, it describes the hyper connectivity between people, places, and ideas. It also depoliticises the threat, making it seem random or evil.

terrorism and the mass media a symbiotic relationship

Consequently, terrorism becomes code word for mystery and uncontrollable threat. The surfeit media coverage of terrorism in Western countries can be contrasted with the dearth treatment of terrorism in other parts of the world where the bulk of terrorism actually happens. Nigeria, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, but even these numbers are deceptive. The rise of terrorism since is not a sign of how dangerous the world has become, but in fact the opposite.