Media and Terrorism
8 September 2018
Hostage crises are extremely fragile and difficult. One wrong move can cost innocent lives. The involvement of the media creates even more complexity during a hostage situation. Since President Bush ended America’s combat operations in 2003, over 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq. Many of these kidnappings, executions, and tortures have gotten significant media and worldwide attention. There is much debate whether media coverage of hostage situations in Iraq have caused terrorists to continue to commit more and more outrageous attacks.
Questions regarding ethical dilemmas for reporters is a huge issue in these situations. This ethical dilemma were largely fought during the time that terrorists made videos of hostages they murdered in Iraq. In these cases it is largely felt that the media is providing a way for terrorists to spread their message while gaining worldwide attention.
Description of the case
Beginning in 2014, video footage was taken of several peoples’ beheading from various countries. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), which is a radical Sunnilslamist group operating in Iraq and Syria. These videos were largely broadcast on the news, internet sites and social media around the world. In January 2015, a copy of the ISIL penal code explaining the penalties and consequences enforced by ISIL for breaking any of their “laws” was released. During this time the media was used as a platform, for ISIL in spreading their own agenda and message across the world. They used the internet and media to spread fear in people of their own country as well as try to scare their enemies into submission.
This is a difficult case, because the media faces an extremely impossible ethical dilemma. If the media has become a tool for these terrorists, causing terrorists to commit more outrageous attacks, how can the media still support freedom of the press while not allowing terrorists to get the coverage and media attention they are aiming for?
According to James E. Lukaszewski, a public relations counselor who previously advised the U.S. military and major international firms reports that, “Media coverage and terrorism are soul mates--virtually inseparable. They feed off each other. They together create a dance of death--the one for political or ideological motives, the other for commercial success.” Lukaszewski supports this view arguing that, ‘this relationship is a mutually beneficial arrangement, “Terrorist activities are high profile, ratings-building events.” The media, Lukaszewski continues, provides the terrorists with access to an audience out of necessity, especially since it needs “[t]o prolong these stories because they build viewership and readership.”(Al-Marashi, 2004) For the time that these videos are circulating the web, the ISIL terrorist group has control of people’s thoughts and feelings. This gives them a sense of power. These kidnappings and videos were an attempt to terrorize their enemies into submission and prevented other countries from sending troops or influencing Iraq’s reconstruction.
Roger Mosey, who is a corporate head of television news exclaimed that 'The terrorists clearly want to lead the international news agenda, so there is a danger they will commit worse atrocities to get more coverage. There has to be a debate among journalists. It is no longer enough to say these images will reach the public domain and therefore we have an excuse for showing them. 'The argument that "it's on the Internet, therefore it's in the public domain" doesn't quite hold yet. Putting something on TV in millions of people's homes, or on a front page that is all over the news stands, is something different. Looking for a site on the internet is a choice. This is an ethical question for media worldwide and it involves all of us.” (Smith, 2004) This is a huge dilemma for the media, because it is their job to report the news, in a competitive environment, if they do not report the news, someone else will and they will lose their job as well as their rating. These images and videos consists of the terrorists logos and flags, putting an unforgettable image in not only their own countries citizens but also throughout the world. The videos of the hostages created fear in their own countries citizens, intimidating them from helping western alliances in Iraqi reconstruction as well as trying to intimidate enemy troops into pulling out their troops. This was an issue during the presidency and re-election campaign of George W. Bush, while creating a great debate among Americans of his strategy in the war in Iraq as wells as preventing him for claiming victory in the war on terror.
Andrew Neil, the broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Times, explained that “We are playing into the hands of the terrorists,' he said...It seems to me they're rather sophisticated: they can see our TV on the web and our tabloids, and they know how it's playing. Having said all that, I see no alternative. In a free country with a free press we have to cover the news.” (Smith, 2004) This is a difficult situation, because these events can’t go unreported, however, the media coverage is exactly what these terrorists want. The media will never go without reporting the news, so how can they report the news without giving terrorists exactly the coverage they want?
The internet is extremely powerful and not easily regulated. Al-Qaeda linked activists post trainings regularly on the internet. Execution clips posted by the al-Tauhid group was downloaded more than 20,000 times in three weeks. Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington described the beheadings videos as “made-for-television events.” He writes that the beheadings videos are part of “A calculated set of actions and images directed toward influencing a mass audience. In this way, the audience is often more important than the action itself, and the symbolism is inseparable from the strategy. Missing this vital point can lead to precisely the wrong response.” (Al-Marshi, 2004) These terrorists are looking for an audience, and that is exactly what the media is giving them.
Key Decision Criteria
The problem with this issue is that as stated before, the media and terrorism is inseparable. There is no convincing all the media world wide to resist reporting crucial news. Also, even if the media resists reporting, terrorists can still post their videos of their victims to the internet themselves. The decapitation video of the American Nicholas Berg was the most popularly searched video on the internet at that time. Since 2003, more than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped and this tragedy will continue due to the fact that kidnappers continue to receive media and worldwide attention. These kidnappers have not only received ransom money, but also have intimidated foreign forces into withdrawing their troops. These videos have instilled fear in Iraqi citizens and deterred many from wanting to help with Iraqi reconstruction in fear of facing the same fate as the victims in the insurgents’ videos.
There has been a lot of debate of the media’s role in terrorism. A lot of the question has to do with the Constitution’s First Amendment regarding freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. So far, little had been done to resolve this issue. The media needs to have more self restraint, as well as there needs to be better legislation and legal sanctions regarding media coverage, as well as better training and education for people in the media and better media and government cooperation.
The media needs more self restraint in reporting sensitive news, however, this is difficult for more reporters. Also, better training and education needs to be offered for media persons as well as to counter terrorist organizations. With this training they would be able to understand what information could be dangerous if reported to the public. Also, better legislation and regulations may be set for the media in order to prevent them from reporting information that may cause them to be a tool for the enemy as well as create dangerous situations for the victims and their own national security.
It would be difficult to pass legislation limiting the media due to the First Constitutional amendment regarding freedom of the press. Also, the internet is almost impossible to regulate. So most importantly is encouraging the media to have self restraint and know the consequences of reporting detrimental information. Education along with incentives would be the best possible solutions as well as government and media cooperation in order to prevent the media from reporting information that ultimately helps terrorism.
Action Plan and Implementation
Training and education combined with self restraint would prevent the media from reporting news detrimental to the victims and national security. Along with this, if the press would form a pool of information to all media organizations, while allowing a twelve hour delay in making the information public, this would prevent dangerous information to be reported during a live event preventing the possible harm of victims during the event. During the event, reporters who are not apart of the pool would not gain as much access to the scene or event and would be kept at a distance as to not distract emergency responders and officials. If the government would fund this training and provide higher salaries to trained media, this would be an incentive for the media to follow safety guidelines and self restraint when reporting sensitive news during hostage crisises.
Al-Marashi, I. (2004, December). IRAQ'S HOSTAGE CRISIS: KIDNAPPINGS, MASS MEDIA AND THE IRAQI INSURGENCY. Retrieved September 7, 2018, from http://www.rubincenter.org/meria/2004/12/al-marashi.pdf
Baghdad, D. M. (2008, July 20). Iraq hostage crisis: Government makes little progress. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/2437897/Iraq-hostage-crisis-Government-makes-little-progress.htmla
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Smith, D. (2004, September 26). Concerns over media coverage of crises. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/sep/26/pressandpublishing.Iraqandthemedia