Ebook: The Media: The Terrorists' Battlefield
As the title suggests, the book commences on the premise that in contemporary conflict, - ‘war amongst the people’ - the objective is public opinion. Conventional warfare between clearly identifiable armies is no more: now armies are sent to neutralize insurgents, armed militias and terrorists amongst a civilian population, preferably with the latter’s consent. A state’s actors in combating terrorism - the military, the police or the security services - may achieve tactical successes against the terrorists, but strategic success cannot be achieved unless the government and its agencies can both maintain the consent of its population and discredit the goals of the terrorists they face. The media have a vital role to play in both these criteria of success: they must challenge the methods used by governments to ensure the legitimacy of the latter’s counter terrorist policy and practice, and they must find a balance between reporting incidents of terrorism and serving the terrorists’ interests.
The Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism is an international body – accredited by NATO – of military and civilian expertise in the field of counter terrorism, aiming to assist NATO in its understanding of terrorism and methods to combat it. In its first full year of operation, the CoE DAT received funding for two Advanced Research Workshops: the first to look at the traumatic effects of terrorism; the second to understand the triumvirate of the media, terrorists and the population that is targeted. Up to this point, the Centre's activity, both in its five-day courses or its two-day International Symposium, had been a unilateral activity, looking at a wide variety of terrorism related issues. The added responsibilities of conducting a workshop in accordance with NATO's criteria pushed the content of its activity beyond predominantly military training at the operational level to an academic, inter-disciplinary approach.
For this workshop, 'Media: Vital Ground for Terrorist Operations' held on 6–7 June 2006 in Ankara, Turkey, the approach was to bring the experiences of western media, military media operations experts and contemporary academic expertise in terrorism together. As the title suggests, the workshop commenced on the premise that in contemporary conflict, – 'war amongst the people'
Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force (Penguin Books, 2005, London), p. 3.
Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force (Penguin Books, 2005, London), p. 3.
The stated objective of the workshop was 'to understand ways that terrorist organisations use the established media to increase the awareness of their ideological goals, and how this may manifest in the Caucasus Region'. This objective fixed the debate in two ways. Firstly, though most of the presentations considered the threat of Islamic international terrorism, the PKK or the insurgency in Iraq, the organisers felt that it was important to focus the discussion during the latter stages of the workshop on a specific region. This served to concentrate the composition of the participatory audience to Caucasian, Central Asian and SE European countries. This use of Turkey's geographic and cultural proximity to the Caucasus Region, in order to raise awareness of terrorist use of the media to these countries, served NATO's continued diplomatic outreach into the region. Secondly, to limit the scope of the workshop, 'established media' was seen as those media with recognized editorial control, and therefore does not include the Internet (except for the homepages of the established media). The workshop was also based on the assumption, challenged by some, that the media can achieve changes of public opinion in the long-term, rather than cause brief fluctuations because of the public's emotional response to a terrorist incident.
The workshop was composed of five sessions, over two days, with each session building on the understanding reached in the earlier sessions. The first session, ‘The Evolution of the Media's Coverage of Terrorism’, was non-specific and looked at the bilateral relationship between media and terrorism, and how this has changed over time and, furthermore, how the media itself has evolved as a result of technological advancement. As modern terrorism is intended to influence the local and international political processes, the influencing of public opinions through mass media – the most efficient means of shaping politics – is vital for terrorists. Therefore a modern terrorist organization needs to understand the operation of the local and international news media and to speak in their language(s). The terrorist organization will try to cater for journalists and columnists, to supply them with continuous information, news items, photo opportunities, in order to achieve its goals.
The second session entitled 'The Dynamics between Terrorism, Public Opinion and the Media' was specific, and looked at this triumvirate within the context of regional issues and legal constraints upon both governments and the media. The international media's coverage of the PKK was questioned as to why it was not as detailed as other contemporary instances of terrorism were, especially during the first decade of separatist violence. The use of appropriate news media was discussed, looking at the phenomenon of Al-Jazeera in detail as a means to influence Arab public opinion by western governments. The idiosyncrasies of hostage taking in Iraq were also studied and, as in the case of televised hostage-takings, it appears that spreading the video, and hence the message, is often more important for the hostage-takers than achieving the political demands required for release of the hostage. Furthermore, the tactic of hostage taking reveals that Iraqi insurgents have a 'public relations' campaign intended to affect audiences inside and outside Iraq. Indeed, video footage of hostages had proved successful in forcing world leaders to withdraw troops from Iraq, preventing international firms from participating in reconstruction efforts, and instigating rallies against the occupation of Iraq in the hostages' countries.
‘The Struggle between Governments and Terrorist Organisations for International and Domestic Public Opinion’, the title of the third session, looked at an area where the initiative has traditionally lain with the terrorist. The media's increasingly global reach and its strong democratic potential for social and political engagement have led to some academic and governmental concern that terrorist groups may employ this useful tool to distribute information, promote ideas and publicize their activities. To counter this 'abuse' of the media, the ethical balance, codes of conduct and legal constraints that the 'Free Media' observe in varying degrees around the world were discussed. In an examination of some of the proactive attempts by legitimate authorities to combat terrorism, the British and American governments' struggle, during the course of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, to successfully harness the potential of information and the media was focused upon. Lastly, the balance of media's coverage of terrorism was addressed: whilst media coverage can amplify the public's fear and anxiety of attack, if well managed and informed, it can increase public awareness of the topic and ways to limit its effects.
The tactical considerations of the media's coverage of terrorism were addressed during the fourth session 'The Security Challenge to the Media Dealing with Terrorism'. This session looked at how media personnel are threatened by terrorism and the challenges of reporting in this environment; the role of the military was also discussed as a source and as a host for embedded media. The responsibilities of the press during conflict, journalistic values such as objectivity, and the relationships among the press, the public and the government, were all explored. Questions were raised regarding the media's own protection. Should the media risk the balance of their coverage by obeying the limitations as an embed in a trade-off for their own security? If the media seek to report independently on terrorism, who should provide protection?
The final session, 'Focus on the Threat of Terrorism to the Caucasus and the Media's Coverage of this Danger', examined the internal and external terrorist threats to the stability of the Caucasus by focusing on both how the Caucasian governments could reduce this threat in the region and the part that the media could play in this reduction. The ongoing conflict in Chechnya continues to destabilise the entire region and provides a focus for radicalised Muslims around the world, who perceive it to be another example of the repression of the Muslim people. The role of the media in promulgating both the terrorist threat and cause, and the tensions between attempts to impose media controls on the one side and the ferocity of subsequent attacks on the other, were considered key to a possible solution.
The natural frictions that exist between the media and the military provoked great discussions about the roles and responsibilities of the media during the discussions on the first day. Opinions varied, though were predictable considering the national experiences of terrorism. The lack of a common definition for terrorism was seen as an obstacle by many to portraying, and therefore condemning, organizations as terrorists. This symmetrical approach in politicizing the government's response has limited utility and is short sighted. Labelling its foes as terrorists may assist in legitimizing the government's actions against a non-homogenous and politically violent part of its population in the short term, but it will not address the long-term 'root causes'. Furthermore, contemporary terrorist organizations will happily oblige in using the vocabulary of violence, deliberately seeking the classification of terrorism, to spread both fear and their message further.
It seems that the priorities of government, its military and counter terrorism agencies and the media are difficult to reconcile, one requiring secrecy for the security of its intelligence and operations, the other requiring free access to information to fulfil its public duty. An extant argument to limit the freedom of the press is shrouded in transparent phrases such as 'ethical balance' and 'responsible journalism'. Yet the response from the journalist community is no more complex: based on values of freedom of reporting that have since been overridden by other priorities, namely deadlines and ratings. It is ironic that one journalist, in arguing for greater coverage of a chronic domestic security threat, asks why the foreign press did not seek to cover his country's struggle, in effect, wishing to dictate the news agendas of other nations to satisfy his country's national agenda. Such opinions make it quite clear that what journalists, military and academics refer to as the concept of free media are irreconcilable, and a consensus was not reached.
The dynamic between governments and media is not solely about control, and all the speakers did not wholly miss this point. Rather than seeking to impose the terms used by journalists, to restrict their movement with embedding as an unfortunate by-product of ensuring their safety, or to impose restrictions on press coverage, governments can seek to use more proactive, intelligent approaches. No government, with its agencies, can immediately counter the media impact of a terrorist attack. The terrorists have gained the initiative and have temporarily seized the 'vital ground'. The issues of the use of a long-term campaign in the media in informing the public of what to do in the case of terrorist attack, and how to help victims in the immediate aftermath were analysed. Anecdotal evidence of those communities better prepared for attack, such as Israel, are noted for the public reaction to an incident: people do not run away in fear from the site; instead they run to the site to assist in any way their training allows. It was demonstrated that a community bonded by purpose, its fears allayed by practical information, will be more resilient to terrorism. If governments seek imaginative and informative ways to utilize the media to educate their public, they are more likely to enjoy strategic success. Concurrent to this, the media should be encouraged to ensure that it reports without emotion or sensationalism. In short, the established media should report, and not entertain.
These recommendations would not be well received by journalists, even those with international reputations for accuracy and trustworthiness. Our keynote speaker was from one such organization, having reported from the Beslan school siege in 2004, he was most suited to speak at this workshop. An edited transcript of his speech is the last entry in this book. He likened his work to intelligence gathering, piecing together the tactical picture to gain insight. All networks claim that they provide 'analysis' from this tactical picture, stressed by deadlines and an immediate demand for breaking news. In truth, journalists have an unenviable job, similar to that of the military commander, who has to clarify the tactical picture in order to make decisions that will directly affect the success of his mission. His error will lead to tactical failure, and perhaps operational difficulties, but he will have received considerable training to increase the chances of his decisions being the right ones. However, the journalist is unlikely to have had military training. Such a journalist, with limited scope to cover a wide area, can only report on his or her immediate environment, and may portray the tactical incident as the operational picture, due to ignorance, time pressures or inaccurate information. Worse still is the phenomenon that the media's very presence may trigger the terrorist attack itself, blurring the ethical picture immensely.
This is an immediate requirement for media networks to acknowledge that much of their coverage is local, a snapshot of often intense suffering, that does not summarize the operational picture nor does it provide the much claimed 'analysis'. Military media operatives are equally at fault for not providing accurate and useable summaries to the journalists, to assist them in providing perspective to their stories. Military deployments do have a limited capacity to engage with local or international media, but this engagement is seen as a lower priority to the military objective in hand. Slowly, many commanders have realized that tactical success – very much in their gift to achieve – will not lead to operational success in contemporary operations unless the media have access to and publicise this success. Strategic success, by its very nature a political outcome, requires informed public opinion, which can only be achieved with the involvement of the media. The content and coverage of the media cannot be changed in a democratic society, so it must be embraced in its current, occasionally flawed, form. Therefore, if the media is an underutilized asset that requires assistance to achieve the balance that it craves, it should merit greater resources at the government's disposal. This would ensure that the established media is in a position, if it chooses, to counter the terrorists' message.
Maj. Peter CORCORAN, COE-DAT, Ankara
Modern terrorism is intended to influence the local and international political processes. Therefore, influencing public opinions is a vital means for terrorists. The most efficient means to influence the political processes is through the mass media, which consciously and unconsciously cooperate with terrorist organisations. The media's main myth about themselves is that they are guided by news worthiness/news value, competition, objectivity, and time frameworks and pressures. However, the media's self-perception permits them to explain away, or ignore, implications of their impact on the agenda of public discourse. A modern terrorist organisation is a public entrepreneur; it fights for its case to be heard, well perceived, and understood. The terrorist organisation's thirst for public recognition can be achieved through pseudo events, such as press conferences and interviews, and by orchestrating gory events that attract the media's attention. Modern counter-terrorism leaders have to understand the media in order to improve their operations against terrorism and overcome the media's tendency to describe the terrorists in a positive terminology.
The foremost difficulty in the fight against terrorism is the failure of the international community to come up with a common description of terrorism and a collective and resolute position to fight this common menace. It is not only the duty of governments to come up with a firm position against terrorism. The media is responsible also in deploring this threat and must act with the awareness that the kingpins of terror aim to unleash a wave of horror, sow the seeds of distrust and bring down all the concepts of a free and open society with such acts. Propaganda is as deadly weapon as are the bombs for the masters of terrorism. On the other hand, freedom of press is not just a right enjoyed by journalists. The right has two faces: on one side we have the right of journalists to report on developments freely in their newspapers, TV and radio bulletins or on their Web sites. That is very important. However, the other side of the freedom of press coin, which could be described as the right of people to be informed, constitutes the backbone of the democratic rights of the modern society. It is for this aspect that journalism is considered to be a “public service.” The third problematic area, unfortunately partly stems from the absence of an international description of terrorism and partly from the “objectivity” cornerstone of the ethics of journalism. Thus, the problem at hand is how to strike a balance between “responsibility” and a fundamental right while at the same time conform with the objectivity principle at a time when the international community is yet unable to define this common threat.
Technology has facilitated a new breed of hostage-takings. Televised hostage-takings are facilitated by inexpensive video cameras and the Internet, but even more importantly by TV-stations who choose to broadcast extracts from hostage-takers' videos. The videos are designed to make the hostage-takers appear as influential and powerful people. For televised hostage-takings it appears that spreading the video is often more important for the hostage-takers than actually getting the authorities to yield to their demands. This decreased importance of political demands has resulted in some hostage-takings having quite moderate demands. Contrary to what one might expect, moderate demands may complicate the choice of strategy for the authorities, making yielding to demands a more viable option. Two models constitute the foundation for the theory presented here: the hostage-game from game theory, and a model developed by the author to describe the paths of influence from hostage-takers to authorities. This influence may go via TV-stations, family of the hostage and public opinion. The key to effectively countering televised hostage-takings lays just as much in the hands of media executives as in politicians' or other government officials'.
This article analyzes the use of kidnapping as a tactic by the Iraqi insurgency in its effort to influence Iraqi, Arab, and Muslim public opinion and politics, as well as the international arena. It assesses how this method has yielded important advantages for the insurgents, despite the horror and opposition this behavior arouses in the outside world.
Terrorism is designed by its perpetrators to disturb social order and the media are implicated with these aims, whether wittingly or unwittingly. Much of the media coverage both in national and international media appears to lack objectivity. News coverage of the terrorist acts taking place in other nations is especially influenced by existing national foreign policies. Therefore, international news media have a tendency to define terrorism by who commits acts of violence rather than what acts are committed. As a result, the definition of terrorism and terrorist becomes problematic. If the groups or organizations which commit the violent acts are sympathized with, then the acts are regarded as legitimate violence and the people are not labelled as terrorists. Consequently in the news, important facts are either omitted or distorted. Generally, the lack of balance in such news coverage is not regarded as unethical.
Modern terrorism strives to achieve political goals. In order to do that, terrorists must first create an irrational and prolonged sense of anxiety amongst a target population. Through that action, terrorists aim to pressure governments to surrender to their political demands. The disruption of daily life results in severe damage to the foundations of the state, causing public opinion to pressure decision-makers to surrender to terrorists' demands. Playing a substantial role in modern democratic societies, the media serve as a central layer in the strategy of modern terrorism. By influencing and shaping public opinion, the media can affect government decisions. Terrorist organizations use the media to attract local and global attention to their problems, and as a platform to convey messages and present their ideologies and objectives. While media coverage can, on one hand, amplify the public's fear and anxiety, on the other hand it can also increase public awareness of the topic and draw decision-makers' attention. Understanding modern terrorism strategy and the media's central role in it raises the need to find means to strengthen the public's fortitude in dealing with the psychological damage of terrorism, and to diminish the irrational anxiety of terrorism. Those means, such as dealing with education and advocacy of the public, changing the way the media cover terrorism, etc., will be elaborated upon and discussed along with the central role of the media with regard to modern terrorism strategy.
The media's increasingly global reach, and its strong democratic potential for social and political engagement, have led to some academic and governmental concern that terrorist groups may also employ this useful tool to distribute information, promote ideas and organise their activities. This paper will concentrate on the struggle that the British and American governments have engaged in during the course of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to successfully harness the potential of information and the media in order to counter the perceived rise in global terrorism. The paper will firstly present a brief discussion of terrorist attempts to harness this media potential, and how effectively they employ their methods to influence public opinion. It will follow this with an analysis of the British government's efforts to create an effective opposition to the perceived terrorist attempts influence media content, placing this within the context of its relations with Europe and America during the global War on Terrorism. The paper will stress the need to maintain the delicate balance between security and liberty in the media realm and will highlight some possible areas for concern in recent government media and information policy.
The War on Terrorism is not a war in the traditional sense, but a mixture of kinetic warfare and a war of and about ideas and ideals. In this respect the relationship between government and media is more symbiotic, in particular circumstances we may even see a symbiotic relationship existing between media and military. However, in a democracy, the tools of communication are democratically distributed and democratically controlled. In this war on terrorism, the media are playing a vital role, both for governments and terrorist organizations, not to mention public opinion. The mass effects of terrorist actions will capture the media's attention, governments and terrorist groups will use the media's ability to transmit their messages. There are competing narratives in the coverage of the war on terrorism. These differences raise vexing questions about the responsibilities of the press in wartime, journalistic values such as objectivity, and the relationships between the press, the public and governments. What is the media's role in this picture? Being a war, journalists should obey the military war coverage requirements/limitations; but to what extent? As an important part of the process, both for governments and terrorist organizations, who will provide protection and how much?
The international significance of the Caucasus region, both North and South, has increased greatly in the wake of September 11 2001 and the initiation of the global war on terror. Already on the map thanks to its position on a key transit route for oil and gas from the Caspian region, the region's alleged links with international terrorism have propelled it further into the spotlight. The ongoing conflict in Chechnya, in the Russian North Caucasus, continues to destabilise the entire region and provides a focus for radicalised Muslims around the world who perceive it to be another example of the repression of the Muslim people. Russia has continued to propagate the notion that Chechnya and terrorism are inextricably linked, and that international terrorism poses a critical threat to the security of its southern borders, where the complex level of ethnic diversity and myriad peoples of the Caucasus represent a significant security threat. How true is the Russian claim that the Caucasus is a “bridgehead” for international terrorism? And how far is terrorism in the region merely an “ideological scarecrow”? This paper will examine the veracity of such claims, the role of the media in promulgating both the terrorist threat and cause, and tensions between attempts to impose media controls and the ferocity of subsequent attacks. What impact have extreme attacks, such as the Beslan hostage-taking and the rising number of suicide bombings, had upon public support for the terrorist cause?
This paper seeks to examine the role of media in coping with the actual and potential internal and external terrorist threats to the stability of the Caucasus. The fight against international terrorism is a major priority for the Caucasian states, domestic and regional instability provides a fertile ground for international terrorism which then adds to the region's instability. The development of independent media is important in fighting terrorism in the Caucasus because the media, by observing international standards, could inform the general public effectively so that terrorists could then be countered with an objective representation of events. In the absence of an independent mass media, terrorists could confuse the general public with their disinformation and subjective propaganda activities. The paper contains an analysis of the mass media's role in representing terrorist threats to the stability of the Caucasus by exploring the evolution of the Chechen problem in the Russian Federation in the post-Soviet era, and the escalation of the tensions between Russia and Georgia.