Media and terrorists: Always as ‘friends’

‘Modern terrorism is media terrorism’. This was the antagonistic and philosophical conviction of Dr. Muhammad Kirat while lamenting at the media style of terrorism reportage in a piece published on May 26, 2014, in the Peninsula, a Qatar daily newspaper.

Dr. Kirat’s argument rests on the projection that terrorists always look up to the media to propagate their heinious acts because they believe that is the kind of ‘positive’ re-enforcement they want to perpetuate their mayhem against humanity. Also, this reflective view has rightly been captured by Brigitte Naxos that terrorists commit violent acts aspiring for three universal objectives: to get attention; to solicit recognition and to gain a certain degree of respect and legitimacy.

Corroborating this is communication scholar Marshall MacLuhan’s insistence that without communication, terrorism will not exist. While his opinion was premised on this symbiotic relationship between the social responsibility function of the media and reporting terrorists’ activities, this is also supported by many scholars, vehemently contesting that media are doing terrorists work for them owing to their swift response in terms of coverages deploying horrifying photos and flawed language. This school of thought is concerned with not what is reported, but HOW it is disseminated to the public.

Similarly, the late iron lady Margaret Thatcher described the media as ‘the oxygen of the terrorists’ when she attempted to enact a law that would deprive terrorists of publicity. These lucid quotes are great lessons for the media industry of Nigeria, where terrorists have been on rampage for many years, defying panaceas. Over the years, the classified terrorists in Nigeria have gained sound knowledge and understanding of how the media inadvertently function for them.

In as much as they exploit the media to aggrandise their publicity at a cheap rate, when they unleash terror, they select soft targets to boost the gravity of the communication, which the media are anxiously waiting for as a news commodity. Through this process, the terrorists achieve their primary objective of instilling profound fears, as they are often more fanatical of the audience than the terrorism act itself.

Worried by incessant and uncensored reportage on terrorism in Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in July 2021, took a bold step in its frantic efforts to stem the rising tide of terrorism in Nigeria by sanctioning what it felt as unprofessional terrorism coverage. According to the body, “Headlines of most newspapers on daily basis replete with security topics. While bringing information on security to the doorsteps of Nigerians is a necessity, there is a need for constriction to as too much details may have adverse implications on the efforts of our security officials who are duty-bound to deal with the insurgency.”

Recently, Rear Admiral Yaminu Musa(rtd) also voiced out his deep concerns over the role of media on reportage of security- related issues. Speaking at a workshop on the theme, ‘Anti- Kidnap Multi-Agency Fusion Cell Media and Communication’, he stressed that, ” In an increasingly interconnected world, where information spreads at an unprecedented pace, the media has the power to either amplify or mitigate the impact of security- related news events. The consequences of inaccurate or sensationalist reporting can be detrimental to public trust, exacerbate fear and anxiety, and even hinder counterterrorism efforts”.

Supporting both the NBC and Musa’s argument, it is incredible to note that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was also disturbed by the provocative terrorists assault reportage by the media that it offered the following suggestions. One, a code of conduct for journalists, photographers and editors dealing with terrorism attacks should be enforced in order to keep the public informed without contributing unduly to the impact of terrorism. Two, training courses should be organised for media professionals aimed at creating awareness of the sensitive nature of media reports on terrorism.

Three, there should be synergy amongst media professionals in order to avoid a race for sensational news and images which play into the hands of terrorists. Four, media experts must avoid contributing to the aims of terrorists by adding to the feeling of public fear which terrorists can create or by offering terrorists a platform for high publicity. Five, media should refrain from disseminating shocking pictures or images of terrorists attacks which violate the privacy and human dignity of victims or contribute to the terrorising effects of such acts on the public as well as on the victims and their families.

Aligning with the above, it is also imperative to refer to the authoritative works of Brigitte Naxcos for an overview of how the media can successfully kill two birds with one stone in as much as their professional and social ethics do not impede their noble objectives of reporting terrorism without necessarily creating negative repercussions on the nation. In the book, ‘Mass Mediated Terrorism’, the central theme is the role of the media in terrorism and counter terrorism.

In ‘Terrorism and Counter Terrorism’, its focal point is that the security of the individual is a basic human right and the protection of individual is a fundamental obligation of the government. As for ‘Terrorism and the Mass Media,’ the core message is that the media are attracted by violent terrorism not only because it is their professional obligation but also they want to sell news like hot cakes.

However, what is, therefore, perplexing is the unavoidable convergence of symbiotic relationship between the media and terrorists. Complementing each other not because of resolved mutual interactions but owing to the arbitrary trend ensures and triggers their accidental union. This unholy alliance provokes a mockery by critics such as the media being labeled as the ‘best friends of terrorists’.

Inferring that the media are passionate for the next minute terrorists explosion to prompt their intervention is unjustified. However, what is ironical is how the terrorists count on the media inputs to spread their evil – designs across the society, inflicting pains, sorrows and other forms of psychological afflictions.

Nevertheless, since terrorism is a global disease that has engulfed many parts of the world, there have been endless attempts of exploring the possibility of curtailing its driving force. Though the nucleus of our insurmountable anxiety is leaning and aligning with the omnipotent media which can do and undo, the power of the media should not be the power of the terrorists in their devilish quest for relevance and sustainability. Professionally, the media are at crossroads dealing with terrorism topic. But through the aforementioned issues and others uncited, the media can be proactive, unearth a safe landing approach for the country’s survival.

For the good of the media and the nation, we must reflect on Hoffman’s balancing judgement that, “Clearly, terrorism and the media are bond together in an inherently symbiotic relationship, each feeding off and exploiting the other for its own purposes.”

‘Purposes’ here requires evaluative defining of professional goals by the media to hit the nail on its head, professionally reporting terrorism in such a manner that it will not be inimical to the overall objectives of counter- terrorism crusade.

Abdullahi writes from
Jigawa state via
[email protected]

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