There is world wide consensus on political front that democracy is not only the best but also the only legitimate method of organizing modern politics. But the problem and menace of terrorism is all against the democratic way of political systems. Terrorism has transcended international boundaries, and thus, has acquired a global form. This problem, these days, affects almost all countries in all regions. Hence, the threat of terrorism is no longer limited to a particular country or region.
On September 11, 2001 two planes smashed into the twin towers of World Trade Center. The initial estimates of death toll were more than 6000 lives, but according to New York Times, these estimates were reduced to 3000. President George W. Bush compared the attack to one on freedom itself and vowed that the nation’s freedom will be defended. The United States has responded to these attacks in different ways. Since then, the whole gamut of the debate on terrorism has undergone tremendous change. The declaration of a ‘war on terrorism’ by the US in response to 9/11 attacks have provided increased attention to the problem of terrorism worldwide and it has since then become a matter of grave global concern.
With the media’s allegedly irresponsible coverage of the Mumbai Terror siege under the scanner, the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry is set to introduce a set of specific guidelines for reporting on “emergency situations”.
I&B Minister for State have issued directions for instituting a ‘standing media consultative committee’ under the I&B Secretary to frame guidelines for coverage of emergency situations like terror strikes, natural disasters, riots and so on. This committee would have representatives from the Editors Guild of India and broadcasters’ associations as its members.
While the ministry has already shot off a show cause notice to India TV for airing a conversation between two terrorists and is considering serious action against the channel, it is also learnt that similar notices have been dispatched to a couple of other prominent news channels, under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act’s Programming Code. Incidentally, Television Audience Measurement (TAM) data ratings of news channels jumped up substantially during the Mumbai terror attacks.
The Centre is of the view that the minute-by-minute coverage of the Mumbai attacks had exposed the NSG commandos to “grave risk” while security operations were on. So much so that security agencies are learnt to have submitted in writing that commando operations were hampered due to the live media coverage. In addition, says the ministry, the media showed great insensitivity by cornering even injured people in ambulances to get sound bytes.
Sources also said that there was a need to put more “systems in place”, just as was done post-9/11 in New York and the London bombings. Following those incidents, the Government and media collaborated to frame a set of strict guidelines for coverage of ‘emergency situations’. The same was conveyed to broadcasters at a meeting that the I&B ministry held with them on Wednesday. The ministry also issued an advisory to 42 broadcasters who run 200 news channels on Wednesday, asking them to exercise “restraint” and not to replay “gory” visuals that could demoralize viewers.
The I&B Ministry in its advisory dated December 3, 2008, states: “Repeated visuals and stories pertaining to the attack, which would make the perpetrators, feel their attack was a success, should be avoided. The media is hereby advised to play the positive role it has in its power to play to instill confidence in the citizens and send a message to the inimical terrorist forces that India is not in disarray.”
The advisory goes on to warn: “The media is also advised that continued unbalanced reporting, which inhabits the restoration of normalcy and propagates a feeling of insecurity, may be treated as coverage against the interest of the nation in the circumstances and attract appropriate action as per rules and as per the terms and conditions of the permission granted for up linking and down linking of TV channels in India.”
“News coverage pertaining to the event should project that India is not demoralized and has risen despite all terrorist attacks (it) should project that India is a global power that has full support of the international community. Gory scenes should not be shown, tragedy should not be replayed¿ media has a great role to play to ensure return of normalcy,” the I&B advisory reads.
The I&B ministry has long been proposing a Broadcasting Bill and Content Code for broadcasters but it was rejected by the latter for fear of Government interference. Some broadcasters formed the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) last year and it came up with its own self-regulatory code.
However, the Supreme Court has recently ordered that it was not sufficient and the I&B ministry must come up with a set of regulations for the media. The ministry has now constituted an inter-ministerial committee for the purpose.
Following the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had also decided to get approval from the Law Ministry to amend the Cable Television Network Rules 1994.
The amendments would curb live telecast of such events as 26/11.
Many have questioned the necessity of adding new rules, implying that current laws are sufficient for the government to exercise control over the media in case of an emergency. Some have said that the new laws could be open to misuse by the government, resulting in censorship.
There is another view that says that self-regulation is a laudable aim, and may work in a perfect society.
According to one analysis, the media had 60 hours to get its act together during the Mumbai attacks, but the coverage only got progressively worse. Whether it is murder cases over the past year or terrorist attacks, the media has proven that it is incapable of regulating itself.
In its present format, the bill, likely to be delayed as broadcasters lobby the government for changes, would set limits on scale and expansion and bring the $3.6 billion television industry under one regulator responsible for controlling content and issuing licences to more than 20,000 cable operators.
It has been argued that though there has been increasing interest in the study of political terrorism as a noticeable public policy problem, yet the focus of attention of most of the scholars has been anti-state terrorism. It has been observed that the societies championing the freedom of the media have often been confronted by the tension prevailing between the professional duty of media to report the news objectively and the explicit desire of the terrorists to use the media for promoting their political goals. This definite contradiction between the societal responsibilities to keep the people informed and deliberate attempts in the direction of manipulating the global media to disseminate some particular propaganda. Robert Gurr finds terrorism as ‘a distinctive revolutionary strategy and a particularly threatening form of political violence, both because of its destructiveness and its potential revolutionary consequences.’
The purpose of the present paper in this backdrop is two-fold: first to understand theoretical dimensions of terrorism; and second to analyze the relationship between media and terrorism in the conceptual framework without bothering to delve into any country specific or region specific issues relating to terrorism and media organizations and their functioning practices. The paper, however, endeavors to locate the compulsions and parameters of this relationship, because research and discourse on terrorism has often concentrated on the ‘glorification drive’ of the terrorists by the media and thereby, much responsibility of the expansion of terrorism has been accorded to media inspite of the acceptance of the core concern of freeness of media in the democratic set-up of governance. The paper also tries to indicate some areas of improvement at the level of good governance to pave the way of diminishing the crisis of terrorism in democratic countries without compromising with the essentially of the liberty of thought and expression.
Defining terrorism has always been an uphill task for decision-makers, academicians, defense personnel and journalists. A great number of researchers, writers and social scientists have made efforts to define terrorism (though in their own ways) which could make us understand the terrorism in a comprehensive manner but defining terrorism, even then, seems to have been quite complex issue before all or most of them. We are used to see a number of definitions of terrorism. Defining and conceptualizing terrorism must necessarily remain an academic and theoretical issue but our definitions sometimes get affected by our proximity to the incidence of terrorism. The distinction between terrorism, guerrilla warfare, conventional warfare, and criminal activity is sometimes murky. Muni finds terrorism as a question of methods, not of motives, in a given context of conflict. “As a method, it gets manifested in almost every conflict, be it an insurgency, an ethnic conflict, state-led law and order or security operations, or even an interstate proxy war. Both state and non-state actors are prone to employing extreme intensity of violence, often bordering on terror or actually being terror, either as a means of conveying political messages, or as an instrument in securing tactical or even strategic military and political advantages.”
Different definitions of terrorism have been prescribed by different writers. Even the definitions of the different national governments and international organizations have not been able to agree to one or the other definition of the term. This would suggest that the definitions of terrorism may vary from one place to other, one nation to other, one society to other, one religion to other, one community to other and one political party to other, but there is a general agreement on the most of the above mentioned attributes of terrorism. Without going into enumerating the definitions by different writers and scholars, we may try to ascertain a few commonalities in the definitions of terrorism.
Some of the common factors in most of the definitions are as follows:-
• Terrorism is generally understood to be the politically motivated violence;
• Terrorism has been viewed to be generally directed towards soft targets;
• Terrorism is essentially group phenomenon;
• Terrorism must be seen as criminal, unfair and illegitimate use of abnormal force;
• Terrorism has one of its main goals as a deliberate attempt to create fear;
• Terrorism often gets involved in intimidating governments and societies; and
• Terrorism gets itself manifested as opposition of established authority
These common features of the definition can best help us identifying the menace of terrorism. Though we presume that different acts of terrorism may provide diverse dimensions to the problem of defining terrorism as such.
Terrorism essentially tries to negate the existence of political power. It challenges the legitimacy of the political authority and uses fear, surprise, violence or threat of violence to achieve the goals through coercion, illegal and immoral use of force, transnational violence and internationalization of a conflict or demand with the latent involvement of communication media. Terrorism poses significant challenge to the political system and state authority.
The debate on terrorism has provided a number of reasons attributing to the growth of terrorism. Some common factors causing the phenomenon of terrorism are enumerated as humiliation of the masses, increase in population, illiteracy, deprivation of the basic human rights, political frustration, regional disparities, widening of inequalities, intervention into religious, social and personal liberties, abject poverty, foreign support, lure for publicity and protest against the policies of the government. Terrorism is not just brutal and unthinking violence. There is an agreement amongst the experts that there has always been a strategy behind terrorist actions. Taking any form of bombings, shootings, hijackings, or assassinations, terrorism has neither been random nor spontaneous rather a deliberate and premeditated use of spectacular violence to make beneficial use of the psychological impact of violence or of the threat of violence to create political change.
Some of the writers on terrorism have endeavored to find traces of terrorism in history. Interestingly the journey in the past has often landed them in remote historical incidents and some of them have tried their best to find linkages between the political movements, wars and other violent development of the nations and societies, and the present day nature of terrorist incidences. Explorations of early history and revolutions of ancient societies have been analyzed as the emphatic impressions of terrorism in the past. Though it may seem quite difficult to agree with the larger portion of the discourse on historical perspective on terrorism, one may tend to accept the fact that present day terrorism may have some historical antecedents and these must surely be kept in mind while analyzing the phenomenon as such and finding and suggesting measures to get rid of this menace. This would essentially mean that our understanding of terrorism must largely depend upon an in depth analysis of the political movements, revolutions, extremism, insurgency and other popular conflicts. The cautions study of the genesis of these developments would necessarily prove to be very insightful and penetrating. In any case, some specific differences between the terrorist activities of the past and the present world may be ascertained while carefully examining the trends of modern current terrorism. We must confess that the adhoc term ‘modern’ actually means (for our purpose) the period of communication explosion, free trade and market, liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) of the last about fifteen years or so. Thus, we generally find that the classical terrorism was local in nature while the modern one has assumed global nature. The earlier one was generally secular by nature while we find that current terrorism is radically religion based. In early stages, terrorism was emerging out of the aspiration for self-determination and therefore, was national in character but the modern extremist terrorism is found to be based on imperialist aspirations of creating a theocratic world. Earlier the message disseminated by terrorism and its activities was weak and local but now it provides a strong global message. Thus, we find a tremendous transformation in the characteristics of the terrorism in present day world.
Political terrorism is often intended to influence a larger audience and to disseminate some specific message besides publicizing some political or religious cause; demonstrating the weakness of a government; and ensure public and media overreactions purposefully. Michael Stohl describes political terrorism as ‘theater’. According to him, “it is profound and often tragic drama for which the world is stage. Violence, death, intimidation, and fear are the theatrical ingredients. The plot often involves hostages, deadlines, and high level bargaining. Tension and anxiety levels are immediately raised. National and international news media frequently monitor and broadcast terrorist events as they unfold. Law enforcement officials and sometimes insurgent terrorists are interviewed via on-the-scene mini cameras, and speculations abound about the nature of the response that we might expect from both the authorities and the terrorists.”
Mass media institutions are said to bear the responsibilities of disseminating information, educating the masses, entertaining the people, addressing social and political issues, creating large scale awareness, setting the agenda, projecting the pluses and minuses of our decision makers, advancing the positive and constructive outlook, paving the way of development, depicting societal changes and producing a knowledge society.
The relationship between media and terrorism is quite precarious. The interplay between media reporting and the use of violence by extremist movements has always been an interesting field of study. It has been observed that violent extremists understand the capacity of the present day media network to disseminate information through satellite and digital technology and to present the events ‘live’ and / or graphically and to cater to the global audience. This instantaneous media exposure brings forward their grievances and facilitates them in garnering larger audience. Keeping in view the media point, they have their ‘own incentives to report-major terrorist incidents’. Today’s terrorists have been able to exploit the advances in communication, transportation and weaponry. Terrorists are said to usually tailor their activities in a manner, which would help them in getting maximum amount of publicity, and dissipate their message through all the communication channels.
Scholar Brain Jenkins is said to have declared that ‘terrorist want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.’ Therefore, it is a calculated violence usually against symbolic targets, designed to deliver a political or religious message. Terrorists need publicity in order to gain attention, inspire fear and respect and secure favorable understanding of their cause, while governments must have public cooperation and understanding in efforts to restrain terrorists from harming the society and to punish the people involved in terrorist activities. This relationship between terrorism and government makes way of new trends in media activities and governance. The governments can make use of media in arousing public opinion against terrorists. Goals of the terrorists might also include ‘winning popular support, provoking the attacked country to act rashly, attracting recruits, polarizing the public opinion, demonstrating their ability to cause pain, or undermining governments.’ Political parties, whether in power or out of power, have provided support-basis for the separatist elements at preliminary stages for nasty purposes of political support and power seeking. Bhawani Singh blames media for catering support-basis to the terrorist organizations. To him, wide media coverage creates around them a halo of hero and evokes martyr’s response and quite a few terrorists become legends in their lifetime and martyrs after their assassination. This may be taken as a truth in the light of analytical study of Kashmir problem by Jagmohan, the ex-governor of Jammu & Kashmir (India) in his controversial treatise. This would lead us to understand that the terrorist groups successfully behold the functions of interest articulation and interest aggregation combined with the manipulated control over the media of political communication.
There has been a viewpoint that media provide a disproportionately large share of news coverage to terrorism and can, thereby, raise general awareness about their cause; provoke policy debates and public discussion by highlighting their radical views; and build sympathetic international environment; and provide greater attention to the terrorist outputs resulting in disruption and prevention in counter-terrorism operations. The sympathetic attitude of media, political leadership and human rights activists simply glorifies the terrorists without taking into consideration the misery, destruction and death resulting from the ghastly acts. The human part of the problem must be given due concern. Sometimes media may be used cleverly to disseminate ill information resulting in calculated propaganda thereby enhancing the credibility of the terrorists and undermining the general people’s faith in the administration. Thus, a challenge to national security is concomitant. Thus, terrorism aims at deliberate disruption of the established order.
It has been rightly observed that “the challenge for policy-makers is to explore mechanisms enhancing media/government cooperation, to accommodate the citizens and media need for honest coverage while limiting the gains uninhibited coverage may provide terrorists or their cause. Communication between the government and the media is an important element in any strategy to prevent terrorist causes and strategies from prevailing and to preserve democracy.” The threat of terrorism is often accentuated by the religious commands said to be ‘divine’ and resultant willingness to commit suicide; proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction; and the world wide free coverage in the mass media. Terrorist actually want free publicity from the media. They wish that media help them by spreading details of their identity; providing favorable understanding of their causes among the masses; promoting sympathetic personnel in media organizations; creating legitimacy to their ideology and the view points of specially created (or otherwise sympathetic) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (particularly human rights activists); and thereby incurring damage to the public images of their enemies in the government and the society. On the other hand, the government wants to advance its own agenda against the terrorists through media. Government wishes the media help deny the terrorists a platform and thereby present them as criminals in the society; provide information to the civil and military authorities about the terrorists; help in diffusing the tensions; strictly avoid emotional presentations of stories linked to the terrorists and their past and families; restrict the access of valuable information to the terrorists; reveal the policies of the government; properly and widely publicize the political and military operations against the terrorists; cooperate in neutralizing the immediate threats; and boost the image of the governmental agencies in fighting the terrorist menace. The government appreciates that the media be little more careful in disseminating the information. The aspirations and priorities of the media are quite different from these two. Media want exclusiveness in the story. Media want to be first in presenting the story besides being professional and accurate. Media require freeness in the information collection and disseminating systems and wants to preserve the right to information. Media wish to play a constructive role in providing solutions to the problem of terrorism but cannot compromise with the ‘newsvalue’ of the developments gained through the media personnel. This contradiction in the expectations from each other further precipitates the solution.
It has been rightly argued that in the feedback process, political violence does try to change its support-structure for the purpose of intensification of their demand-pattern towards the decision-making authority. But terrorism, besides pruning and chiseling their support-techniques try their best to mould and divert the environmental inputs to their favour. This way, the whole recruitment and socialization process gets largely affected by these tendencies and on different socio- culture or even politico-economic grounds. But the function of rearrangement and adjustment of environmental legacies can never be done by political agencies. It has only to be performed by social organizations which are non-entities in the present circumstances because of vast politicization of every aspect of human life and their resultant helplessness and work for transformations in environmental inputs so as to lesson the burden of counter- productive demands emerging with distorted and un-democratic support- structures. For this, primarily the sphere of socialization and recruitment is to be checked and contained in view of our field realities and the conversion function of the authority should be smoothened. In the present days of communication-advancement and information-explosion, sheer suppression of the demands would only create problems to the sustenance of the system itself. A special report of the United States Institute of Peace entitled- Global Terrorism after the Iraq War- has suspected continuation of terrorist attacks in coming years directed towards the U.S. ‘whether out of rejection of western values, envy of American wealth and power, or objections to specific policies.’ The report has pleaded for efforts against global terrorism by augmenting intelligence and military means with a better strategy for counter militant Islamist ideology. It presents a case for long-term and deep-rooted issues, including democratization, economic growth, and educational reform in the Muslim world. It emphasizes the development of more open societies and increased prosperity. The report suggests that policy should concentrate on building consensus and enhancing international cooperation, strengthening law enforcement and the rule of law.
The debate on relationship between media and terrorism has often concentrated on the ‘facilitating’ aspect of news coverage by the media. There has been an argument that facilitating cannot be equated with the ‘causing’ of terrorist process. Yet the dichotomy of the media is not too simple. Media have to strike a balance between so many aspects of the terrorist events. Media are, in fact, in an unenviable and ‘uncomfortable’ position. Media have to limit the exploitation of modern communication systems by the terrorist organizations; refrain from censoring the news about terrorists; retain the right to information of the people; avoid the risk of becoming ‘tool’ in the hands of either the government or the terrorists; and restrain the over enthusiasm of presenting too much about the terrorists and seemingly alliance of the media with them.
A large number of suggestions have been forwarded for combating terrorism which include strong administration, optimum efficiency, accountability of the state, neutrality in public affairs, normalcy in civil-police relationship, quick redressal of grievances, psychological and sociological inputs, eradication of corruption, coordination in intelligence units, integration of strategies of counter terrorism, increased role of opinion makers, commando raids on terrorist camps, restoration of democratic institutions, comprehensive assessment of the problems, social employment drive, boost to development efforts, revival of cultural and literary fora, revival of party organizations, agreement on extradition treaties and revitalizing International law.
It is the responsibility of the media to find differentiating lines between disseminating the news and spreading the message of the terrorists. Enjoying the liberty of expression, media must restrain from taking sides and using provocative language and photographs to attract larger audience. Media must contribute to the maintenance of democracy which is under threat. However, the potential culpability of the media in spreading propaganda and fostering fear while invoking its freedom with blind eye requires serious attention. The media must be responsible enough towards the democratic norms besides inculcation of these norms in the citizenship. Media must understand that only democracy has provided them freedom of expression and this freedom has to be handled with care.
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