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This essay will discuss the topic of media oriented terrorism with reference to the role of media in influencing terrorist attacks and the shaping of public opinion. The main argument of the essay will be that terrorist organizations use social media as means of conveying their ideological preferences with maximum exposure, while influencing public opinion. This issue is important as both provide the necessary resources enabling terror events to take place. Terrorist organizations provide the action for the terror event and the media relay this message to the wider audience. The events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent US and international response clearly demonstrated the need to understand the phenomenon of terrorism which has dramatically impacted the peace and stability of international affairs.

The main contention of the essay will be as follows; firstly defining what is mean by terrorism and media while evaluating what influence terrorist organizations in using media and why the media relays their messages, Secondly looking at the historical use of media by terrorist groups through the research think tank RAND (Research and Development). The body of the essay will examine two organizations Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, making use of external state terrorism and hostage taking practises and Al-Qaeda with Religious terrorism and suicide-bombings. A specific case-study will be used to illustrate the use of media with 9/11. Finally this essay will look into Osama bin Laden’s video tape footage taken from his speeches on the aftermath of the US led invasion into Afghanistan this analysis will include the effects of the speech on public opinion. The main aim of this essay is to arrive at the conclusion that media and terrorism are intrinsically linked and need each other to function. While the use of media within terrorism has resulted in more violent attacks being placed to attain media exposure.

‘The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or organized group against people with the intention of intimating or coercing societies of government, often for ideological reasons [Is a form of terrorism].’ (Combs 2006, p.14) To prevent as far as possible a pejorative use of terrorism within the essay the previous definition will be used for legally operational definition applicable to terrorist acts, rather than to the individual groups in question. The concept of terrorism contains a few important components: a synthesis of war and theatre a dramatization of the most proscribed kind of violence on innocent victims played before an audience in the hope of creating a sense of fear for political or ideological reasons. (Jackson 2011, p.115) The term and concept is not a new phenomenon with the idea of achieving political action through violence going as far back as the Zealots of Judea and Ancient Islamic Assassins, though terror as a word and terrorism as a concept entered the western vocabulary during the French Reign of Terror 1793. (Weinberg 2005, p.41)

Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre outlined the concept terror in order to gain democracy, ‘Terror is nothing but justice, prompt, service and inflexible, it is therefore an emancipation of virtue.’ (Combs 2006, p.4) The main influences for terrorist organizations use of media as a means of terrorism is outlined through gaining attention, spreading fear and recognition of its motives. (Awan 2007, p.389) The gaining of attention is strongly linked to agenda setting. Terrorists try to be in the media as often and as long as possible, so that the aims and objectives of the organization can become well known to the public. As they get attention people will be aware of the existence, methods, and targets of the group. (Schmid 2011, p.56) The main aim of this strategy is to intimate the audience and governments in accepting the demands of the organization as even the threat of possibly becoming victim of terrorist violence is enough to create fear, and thus to affect the policy making process. (Bandura 2007, pp.161-169)

As Hoffman writes: ‘Only by spreading the terror and outrage to a much larger audience can the terrorists gain the maximum potential leverage that they need to effect fundamental political change.’ (Hoffman 2006, p.174) Examples include the 1972 terrorist attack in the Munich Olympic Games, by the Palestinian group Black September. What followed was a hostage situation and a rescue attempt that was closely covered the media, and watched by millions of people throughout the world. The effects of this media strategy can be increased by trying to make the media frame the issues in a certain way. (Conway 2006, p.291) The audience of terrorist attacks has a twofold dimension. Firstly it looks at not only creating a sense of fear within victims but also the possibility of gaining supporters. These potential supporters the people in whose name the terrorists claim to act have to be impressed thus the higher casualty rate an attack can result in the greater potential of gaining new members. (Shpiro 2002, p.76)

Another objective of terrorists using the media: they want to show potential supporters that they can deliver when people who are perhaps mildly interested in the activities or ideas of a particular group see that that organization is actually able to have an impact on the legitimate political establishment, these people may become more respectful or sympathetic toward the terrorist cause or organization. (Weinberg 2005, p.114) A key question remains why are the media so willing to report such events? ‘Media is the communication channel through which news and other forms of data are shared through broadcasting and or promotional messages.’(Savage 2012, p.767) The influence of media has resulted in it being a way to transmit, or share information with a broad audience through mainly the use of modern news agencies. Everyone has the opportunity to create and distribute information. (Schmid 1992, p.32)

The transfer from mainstream media towards social media within the last ten years has afforded terrorist groups convenience, affordability and previously unfounded level of exposure by using social media platforms like video streaming websites and internet accounts terrorist groups have increasingly used social media to further their goals and spread their message. (Ross 2007, pp.215-220) The media has always been interested in reporting terrorism, however the recent proliferation of television and mass media has resulted in greater competition between media groups for information that is believed to keep audiences captivated, boost ratings while increasing profits. (Altheide 2007, p.12) The problem does not lie in why the media covers terrorism, but lies in how the media covers terrorism. In covering terrorist events the media generally uses agenda setting and framing to highlight and make certain issues more prominent than others.

Agenda setting is the theory that ‘the more attention a media outlet pays to a certain phenomenon, the more importance the public attributes to such an issue’ (Jackson 2011, p.77) Framing, on the other hand, is ‘selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in a communicating text’, (Hoffman 2006, p.46) The television media’s strong tendency to ‘personify’ the stories they cover while making their stories more relatable to the general public by humanizing the people involved within the news story creates the ability for the watcher to become more personally involved. (Martin 2003, p.79) The better terrorists understand this mechanism behind the media, the more coverage they may receive and take further steps for massive publicity and the opportunity to showcase their ability to strike. One example of this is with the 9/11 attacks, the heavy reliance on visuals led to 9/11 becoming mass TV news for the story as the ablity to showcase an event towards an audience (the viewers) was apparent. (Seib and Dana 2011, p.96)

The terrorists involved carefully selected the places in which they carry out their attacks in order to provide the best media coverage. The process of manipulation by terrorist groups of the media in conveying their main aims and objectives has led to criticisms. Reporters maybe highlighting the events which are developing though this may also be seen as conversely disseminating terrorist propaganda. Likewise the ablity of terrorist acts to reach mass audiences can result in a possible misinterpretation into the reasons behind the attack depending on how it is covered. (Norris 2003, p.253) The ablity to gain media exposure from certain terrorist attacks does not necessarily mean an increase in the number attacks being placed though may result in increasing the attacks severity as shown by a study by the think tank RAND (Research and Development). (Jenkins 1981, p.76) Most terrorist attacks receive little or no attention from the media mainly due to the number of casualties involved or the location of the attack. (Kenan et al. 2003, p.75)

As the media environment becomes more decentralized and competitive, news outlets try to maintain a market share by devoting more attention to terrorist attacks that employ more dynamic tactics or ones that are particularly violent, such as kidnapping and Airliner hijackings. As more people or interests are involved within these attacks this results in a greater eagerness form news agencies to relay the information towards a wider audience. (Nacos 2002, p.23) An important objective of work in this area is to explain why some attacks receive more media attention than do others. Explanations for this variation fall into two categories. The first category highlights features of the attacks themselves, such as the tactics, targets, and perpetrators. (Deli 1987, p.112) The second category looks at the goals and environment of media outlets. Attacks involving violence receive more news coverage when an act harms or kill victims, especially when selected targets are associated with Western countries. (Kenan et al. 2003, p.11)

Media is more developed within the western hemisphere this results in greater attention being forwarded towards Western targets by terrorist groups such as diplomats, civilians, politicians etc. (Awan 2007, p.408) Existing research concludes that most terrorist attacks do not receive attention from major media outlets such as large-circulation, quality newspapers in the United States and Western unless the act has a large viewing potential involving high amounts of violence. This effects future terrorist attacks, as they are planned to both kill and injure more people in order to gain publicity. (Baum 2003, p.114) An effective use of media by a terror organization is that of Hezbollah’s external state sponsored terrorism with hostage tacking practises which are then publicized through the use of its own media channel al-Maher. (Baum 2003, p.45) Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi’ite movement that promotes Islamic revolutions. It is prominent in the resistance against Israeli presence in South Lebanon and extensively makes use of hostage kidnapping techniques. (Martin 2003, p.545)

This form of external state terrorism is primarily used to spread fear and confusion among its neighbouring states in order to create political or security instabilities. (Combs 2006, p.75) In state sponsored terrorism the state usually aids existing terrorist groups while still retaining their independence. The importance of hostage taking for Hezbollah was shown between 1982 and 1992, when almost 1,000 foreign citizens were abducted by the Shi’ite group. Each abduction was a small step forward in its foreign policy objectives while the increased attention from the media allowed the organization to highlight its aims and objectives (Ranstrop 1997, p.2) This form of political terrorism defined as ‘Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain to another in order to comply a third party.’ (Norton 2007, p.84)

As hostage taking is mostly oriented towards a political goal, Hezbollah use this to gain extensive media coverage. Their main aim is to oust Israel from the Middle East and ban any form of Western Imperialism. The use of Hostage taking is a successful tactic employed by Hezbollah and extends their message to a wide audience. (Harik 2008, p.64) For Hezbollah cyberspace presentations are of great importance and are considered a key instrument in winning the hearts and minds of the local population within Lebanon. The propaganda and information strategy of Hezbollah’s use of media is oriented towards its ideology and political agenda. (Norton 2007, p.79) The group uses its own TV channel al-Manar to directly expound its point of view. (Hess 2003, p.23) The content of al-Manar’s is often anti-Semitic, inciting violence against Israelis and Americans. Creating terrorist television channels has similar advantages for terrorist organizations as the use of the Internet, due to the level exposure. (Chitty 2003, p.68)

This allows for the recognition of motives, or sympathy which is easier to achieve if the channel is made by the organization itself. In saying this it does have its disadvantages it is harder to remain anonymous and easier to ban satellite channels than Internet sites. Also most of the interactivity that the Internet is renowned for is lost on satellite television. Therefore, a combination of Internet, television, and possibly other media, as Hezbollah employs, can be a potent weapon for a terrorist organization. (Dobkin 1992, p.89) Al –Qaeda is another example of an organizations who extensive use of media. As the multi-national cell organization aiming to dispose Western Imperialism from the Middle East uses media to cover the single terror attacks such as suicide-bombings and airline hijackings. (Awan 2007, p.408) As terrorists are primarily interested in the audience, not the victims, it emphasizes how the audience reaction is as important as the act itself. (Seib and Dana 2011, p.76)

To this end, terrorists carefully select the places which they carry out their attacks in order to provide the best media coverage. To illustrate this, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former leader of al-Qaeda, argues that ‘[al-Qaeda is] in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. [Al-Qaeda is] in a media battle for the hearts and minds’ (Seib and Dana 2011, p.91). New technologies have simply allowed the dissemination of terrorist messages to reach a broader audience with a more concise message. Al Qaeda now tends to rely more heavily on the internet as a medium to which they reach the media. (Torres 2008, 34) This is mainly due to the internet being safer but also allows Al Qaeda to speak directly to their audience with an untainted message. The internet acts as a direct media with no filter for the language, message or imagery used, communication technologies are pushing the boundaries of what television audiences are used to viewing.

Al Qaeda has now moved forward with a new media strategy that gives them access to an unlimited public attention. (Altheide 2007, pp. 287-301) The television media’s strong tendency to ‘personify’ the stories they cover. Making their stories more relatable to the general public by humanizing the people involved within the news story creates the ability for the watcher to become more personally involved. (Ross 2007, p.89) The better terrorists understand this mechanism behind the media, the more coverage they may receive and take further steps for massive publicity and the opportunity to showcase their ability to strike. One example of this is with the 9/11 attacks, the heavy reliance on visuals led to 9/11 becoming mass TV news for the story as the ablity to showcase an event towards an audience (the viewers) was apparent. (Martin 2003, p.245) The terrorists involved carefully selected the places in which they carry out their attacks in order to provide the best media coverage.

Terrorism becomes violence for effect not for the physical effect on the actual target but rather for its dramatic impact on the audience. (Hoffman 2006, p.71)Thus terrorist groups use suicide- bombings, hijackings and kidnappings in order to gain greater publicity. (Matin 2003, p.279) The skilful use of the media by Osama bin Laden raises questions its impact on events during a terror crisis. This provided him with a most visible platform due to the extensive coverage it received. In his taped message directed to the American people towards and Muslims worldwide he articles his call for Jihad following the US invasion of Afghanistan. (Baum 2003, p.123) His timing provided accurate with Al Jazeera following bin Laden’s instructions to play the footage once the actual bombing had started. (Conway 2006, p.45) This enabled the effective projection of his message. The use of personal antidotes involving, killings of children and the vulnerable was a call for ‘Every Muslim should rush to defend his region.’ (Pedahzur 2007, p.178)

The numerous references to ‘Allah’ and the ‘Prophet Mohammed’ in thanking them for the death and destruction that Al-Qaeda caused on 9/11 bin Laden clearly illustrated his struggle in theological terms. (Shpiro 2002, pp.78-80) He used the media to tailor his statements using selective Qur’anic references and playing upon those selective feelings for a selected audience. (Pedahzur 2007, p.175) The resulting media attention had profound impact on what the public understood about these events. The importance on how American news agencies covered this event was central. As many Americans had not heard of Osama bin Laden nor the Taliban before. The American citizen’s search to why the attacks happened led to an expectation from the media to provide this answer. (Norris 2003, p.185) Research by RAND showed patterns in the News coverage included words such as ‘hatred’, ‘start a war’, ‘destroy’ or ‘way of life’ a total of 40.4 per cent of the time. (Chitty 2003, p.46) The group How Americans Respond (HAR) highlighted how slightly under half of the 800 Americans interviewed blamed the attacks on terrorist and Muslims.

When asked a follow up question on whom/what influenced this view 95% of correspondents pointed to the media. (Hess 2003, p.91) Thus the previous news coverage did affect the American citizens understanding of the events. The resulting factor is that people look to the media to gain an understanding of events like September 9/11. In conclusion terrorist organizations use media as a means of conveying their ideological preferences to influence public opinion have proved successful. This influence in using media to forward the organizations views allows people to become aware to its aims and objectives. The media’s willingness to communicate these issues derives from its need to boost ratings while increasing profits. As the media are interested in reporting terrorism, the more attention it pays to certain phenomenon the more importance the public attributes to such an issue.

This enables media and terrorism to be intrinsically linked with its use within terror events leading to more aggressive attacks and thus a higher casualty rates in order to attain more attention. Though both the media and terror organizations seem to benefit from their corresponding actions, disadvantages can be seen. Sometimes the media can be blamed for spreading terrorist propaganda or likewise misinterpretation by the media into the reasons behind the attack. The winners of this conflict will be the group who most effectively uses the media to shape public opinion and tries to gain the advantage of using the public as tools of influence. Overall the main aim of terrorism is thus, a violent act that is conceived specifically to attract attention in order to gain support for a specific cause.


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