Terrorist acts/threats have been in existence for ages, far back as the 14th- 18th century, continuing into the modern era 19th -20th C and the 21st C. There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism; however, Hoffman[i] (2006) defines terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence in pursuit of political change. Terrorism according to Schmid and Jongman (2005)[ii] is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent actions employed by individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons.
The Anti- Terrorists Act (2005) states a Terrorists includes a person who:-
A. commits a terrorist act by any means directly or indirectly, unlawfully and wilfully;
B. participates as an accomplice in terrorists acts or the financing of terrorism;
C. organizes or directs others to commit terrorist acts
D. contributes to the commission of terrorists acts/financing of terrorism with a common purpose where contribution-
i. is made intentionally, with the aim of furthering the terrorists
ii. with knowledge of the intention of the persons to commit the terrorist
The Anti- Terrorists Act (2005) states a Terrorist Act means-
I. loss of human life or serious bodily harm;
II. damage to property;
III. prejudice to national security/disruption of public safety;
IV. compel government/international organization to do/refrain from doing any act
V. Intimidate the public for purpose of advancing a political, ideological or religious cause.
Mass media according to James (2008) refers collectively to all media technologies, including the Internet, television, newspapers, and radio, which are used for mass communications, and to organizations which control these technologies. In order to spread fear and advance its political goal, a terrorist organization needs the media. Muller et al. (2003) called media publicity the “oxygen” of terrorism; even though terrorism cannot be labelled “oxygen of the media”. The media profit from terrorism since terrorism is an attractive boon for media coverage, because terrorist make viewer ratings surge.
There exist a symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the media which is the subject of this paper, more specifically, decoding media representation of terrorism/terrorist. Theoretical perspectives on terrorism will be examined. Furthermore the international as well as the local context of the role of the media and terrorist will be investigated. Finally, the conclusion will summarize the media representations of terrorism, proposing recommendations to reduce the relationship between the terrorist and the media.
Theoretical perspectives provide explanations for the occurrence and existence of terrorism. The Philosophical Theory of Religion articulates that terrorists are of the belief that God approves and demands their action. They believe that religion theorizes evil away as part of God’s plan thus adding justification to terrorist acts.
Strain Theory states that terrorism is most likely when people experience ‘collective strains’ that are:- 1) high in magnitude with civilian affected, 2) unjust and 3) inflicted by significantly more powerful others. Strain is heightened when individuals are faced with disjunctions in their lives which increase the likelihood of terrorism through feelings of despair, defeat, fear and anger, all of which add to the justification of terrorism (Agnew 1992).
Furthermore, the Rational Choice Theory assumes that terrorist acts emanate from rational, calculated, conscious decisions (Cooper 1978). Before choosing to commit the crime, terrorist evaluates their personal situation and situational factors, as to secure an optimal strategy to fulfil the socio-political goals.
Differential Association Theory (Sutherland 1939) predicts that terrorism is neither unique to nor invented by youth, it is passed on by others. Differential Identification theory, explains why people choose models for their behaviour and “a person pursues criminal behaviour to identify himself with real or imaginary persons whose perspectives his criminal behaviour seems acceptable” (Glaser, 1956). Consequently, individuals become attracted to and identify with deviant people outside of their social world through exposure with the media.
International Terrorism and the Media
The Transnational Terrorism, Security and the Rule of Law (TTSRL) research project (2008) argues that there is a ‘ symbiotic ’ relationship between terrorism and the media and that the media provide terrorists with the opportunity to advance their political agenda and terrorism provides an attractive boom for media coverage.
Alexander, Carlton and Wilkinson (1979) identify three objectives for terrorists engaging the media. Firstly, in gaining attention they suggests that terrorists are trying to be in the media often and long as possible, to become wellknown to public. Secondly, recognition of motives, they postulate, terrorists want to be known to the audience; and want to get their message across through the media. This can be achieved by carrying out the attacks; the audience may ask themselves why people would do such a thing.
Thirdly, gaining legitimacy; this is achieved when the media give time and analysis to the words and action of terrorist leaders like regular, accepted, legitimate world leaders. The TTRSL (2008) argues that the objective of the media for transmitting terrorism stories is increase ‘viewer ratings’. They note that although there may be other reasons such as personal interest, involvement by journalists or social responsibility the universal reason is the large number of viewers that watch terrorist attacks.
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