Media Responses to Terrorism Inadequate

Like the terrorist attacks in Belgium, the horrific Paris shootings evoked many strong emotions and opinions in the days and weeks after they occurred thanks in part to round-the-clock sustained media coverage. Together, the generated moods of sadness, anger, confusion and conservatism evoke memories of the build up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and this is why we should slow down and consider the bigger picture before we allow these emotions to get the best of us as politicians and the public alike ponder Syria action and the enactment of new domestic laws. After all, as Benjamin Ginsberg rightly noted:

“a successful regime caters more to the interests of its elites and more to the emotions of its masses.”[1]

So, in this context, how the Belgium and Paris attacks and as well, the Russian airliner that was brought down over Egypt,[2] are used to fulfil political objectives must be at the very minimum, weighed up when analysing political decisions that appear to be in the name of security. It has been the corporate owned media’s uncritical framing of such events, and their extended daily coverage of them that has contributed to a dangerous civil rights scenario both at home and abroad.

Intelligence failures seem to have lost their value in the media as useful parameters of government effectiveness and therefore the construction of reasonable responses to terror are lacking or missing altogether

Importantly, we should consider the way in which the mass media frames and sustains news stories depending on their origin.[3],[4] Despite their regularity, most of us do not see terrorist events regularly unfolding on the news in such a saturated manner, because the mass media usually report daily foreign terrorist events such as those in Turkey in a matter of fact way, noting the ‘objective’ facts and figures – often failing to underscore the human side of events in any truly sustained manner.[5] Terrorist attacks rarely gain such day-to-day coverage unless they directly affect the West and are politically expedient.[6] In terms of practical value in fostering a government response to atrocities, this coverage at least makes some sense, but from a political angle, Hegelian machinations may also be at work.

Terrorist atrocities can have a marked effect upon a citizen’s state of mind when covered in the news in this sustained way, ensuring that the need for any government response over substance takes precedence. Mass media drenched populations link terror events to their own lives and the ones they love, thus producing staunch opinion and defensive emotions.[7] In many ways, the victims and survivors become members of the populaces’ own families. This tendency culminated in individuals placing photos of their own pets online with the caption ‘Je suis Diesel’, in support of the police dog that was killed in a raid.[8]

Amongst the confusion and heightened emotional states that such attacks initially produce, the propensity to tolerate ignorance increases through pressures to conform and because for a given unfamiliar situation people do not know how to act and seek the ‘correct’ way to behave; this phenomena is called informational social influence.[9] Individuals naturally seek information in order to increase certainty about events,[10] but they are often met with an ignorant certainty which they themselves may adopt. These views are interspersed with what Charles W. Mills labelled the ‘conservative mood’, whereby the lion’s share of the population will often defend their government, even if it does not always stand for their best interests or is ineffective at doing so.[11]

All in all, these factors can help foster an uncritical take on government responses to terrorism from both the public and within the media themselves

In relation to these factors, news outlets actively and sometimes unwittingly create a common enemy to focus our aforementioned frustrations on and shift blame away from government. The media have done so more recently by equating conventional Islam with terrorism[12] and demonising this multifarious and diverse group by linking them to criminality, speaking of ‘Muslim ghettos’ and ‘no go-zones’ in Paris.[13],[14],[15] The classification of poor areas as ‘Muslim’ ghettos is a futile and mindless attempt to equate the crimes that emanate from these geographic areas, that are clearly linked to poverty, with Islam instead – just as the case with those labelled ‘black’ by society in US ghettos.[16] What’s more worrying, there are parallels with the ‘Muslim ghetto’ classification and the ‘Jewish ghetto’ labelling that was used to isolate the Jewish segments of society in Nazi Germany.

Few of these news outlets actually venture out and do real reporting by visiting these areas. What they would have found if they did is simple; deserted streets. Many Muslims are terrified of the terrorists themselves and fear the possible hostile reactions of their fellow citizens towards them.[17],[18] Despite many media efforts to disassociate conventional Islam with extremists,[19] Muslims are being used as scapegoats to suppress us all in our search through the fog, and to distract us from the self-serving interests of the few.

Extremists come in many forms – be they Islamic, Christian or State. But there is a misbalance in the fact that we rarely hear the word linked with the latter two

Civil Rights Threat

As we all fight one another, we may now sit at a precipice between a fully-fledged Syria invasion and the continuation of an ongoing bombing campaign which Britain and France have now joined against ISIS.[20] Only a new major attack on a country such as Britain or the US would ensure that there is absolutely no turning back. Worryingly, and like in America with their Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11,[21] a whole host of archaic laws and measures are being passed across Europe in the name of security which strengthen an exploitative capitalist control grid.[22],[23] Despite the very real threats of terrorism, these laws and measures go too far and strongly threaten the freedoms we have left in our injured ‘democratic’ societies. Take London’s response to the Paris attacks when they decided to hire, not 50, nor 100, but 600 new armed police.[24] Are we forgetting the lessons of Menenzez, who was brutally shot and killed by armed police who allegedly mistook him for another suspect in London?[25]

The responses to recent attacks are at the very least, short-term, clumsy or uncalculated. They may also be politically difficult to undo

Overall, what is needed is not new laws but better intelligence practises and a sensible increase in the number of analysts working for the intelligence services with the hope that in future these numbers will importantly be decreased. It is clear that many terror suspects are/were already on the radar of multiple intelligence agencies before various major terrorist attacks took place.[26],[27],[28],[29] We should be wary of any measures going beyond reasonableness that further reinforce this capitalist control grid. Otherwise, with all of the data intelligence agencies have already been collecting on our political allegiances and other highly personal information, we could be facing fascism on steroids.

Daniel Taylor is an international politics PhD researcher at City University London. He specialises in US foreign policy in South America and the roles of their respective militaries. Areas of academic interest include: elite theory, social control, state terrorism, covert activity and ‘coercive diplomacy’. Email contact: Daniel.Taylor@city.ac.uk, mr.danieljtaylor@gmail.com

[1] Ginsberg, Benjamin, The Captive Public, (Basic Books Inc: New York, 1986). p.47.

[2] McTighe, Kristen, ‘Russian Airliner Crashes in Egypt’, from Financial Times (31st October 2015) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e66d770c-7fb2-11e5-8095-ed1a37d1e096.html#axzz40MHWpqsQ [Accessed 14th January 2016]

[3] Norris, Pippa, Kern, Montague, Just, Marion, ‘Framing Terrorism’, from Norris, P., Kern, M., Just, M. [Eds] Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government and the Public. (Routledge: New York and London, 2003) pp.3-26.

[4] Eland, Ivan, ‘Saturation Media Coverage of the Paris Terrorist Attacks is Unhelpful’, from Independent Institute (January 12th 2015). Retrieved from http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=5273 [Accessed: 12th November 2015]

[5] Ibid.

[6] Norris, Pippa, Kern, Montague, Just, Marion, ‘Framing Terrorism’, from Norris, P., Kern, M., Just, M. [Eds] Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government and the Public. (Routledge: New York and London, 2003) pp.3-26.

[7] Miller, Toby, Television: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. (Routledge: London and New York, 2003)

[8] Dearden, Lizzie, ‘Diesel Police Dog Death Sparks #JeSuisChien Twitter Trend’, from The Independent (18th November 2015). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attacks-saint-denis-raid-death-of-diesel-the-police-dog-sparks-jesuischien-twitter-trend-a6739161.html [Accessed: 15th December 2015]

[9] Aronson, Elliot, Wilson, Timothy, Akert, Robert, Social Psychology, 5th ed. (Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 2005)

[10] Kellermann, Kathy, Reynolds, ‘When Ignorance is Bliss: The Role of Motivation to Reduce Uncertainty in Uncertainty Reduction Theory’, Human Communication Theory, 11, pp.593-604.

[11] Mills, Charles, The Power Elite, (Oxford University Press: London, Oxford, New York, 1956. 1971-2 Print) pp.326-327.

[12] Nossek, Hillel, Sreberny, Annabelle, Sonwalkar, Prasun, ‘Introduction’, Nossek, Hillel, Sreberny, Annabelle, Sonwalkar, Prasun, [Eds], Media and Political Violence. (Hampton Press: New Jersey, 2007) pp.1-22.

[13] Swinford, Steven, ‘Nigel Farage: Ghettos in French Cities have become No-Go Zones for Non-Muslims’, from The Daily Telegraph (13th January 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11343498/Nigel-Farage-Ghettos-in-French-cities-have-become-no-go-zones-for-non-Muslims.html [Accessed 08 January 2016]

[14] ‘Ethnic Ghettos Prove a Perfect Breeding Ground for Terrorists’, from The Times (18th November 2015) http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4616764.ece [Accessed 20th January 2016]

[15] ‘France ‘No-Go-Zones’ Off-Limits to Non-Muslims’, from Fox News (11th January 2015) http://video.foxnews.com/v/3983087833001/france-no-go-zones-off-limits-to-non-muslims/?#sp=show-clips [Accessed 20th January 2016]

[16] Worrall, Patrick, ‘FactCheck: Do Black Americans Commit More Crime?’, from Channel 4 News (27th November 2014) http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-black-americans-commit-crime/19439 [Accessed 21st December 2015]

[17] Nougayrède, Natalie, ‘Paris Attacks Leave France in Trauma, Fearing for the Future’, from The Guardian (14th November 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/14/paris-attacks-leave-france-in-trauma-fearing-for-the-future [Accessed 16th December 2015]

[18] Sakuma, Amanda, ‘Anti-Muslim Panic Threatens to Cause Lasting Damage’, MSNBC (2015) http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/anti-muslim-panic-threatens-cause-lasting-damage [Accessed 15th December 2015]

[19] Alnatour, Omar, ‘Muslims are not Terrorists: A Factual Look at Terrorism and Islam’, from The World Post (12th September 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/omar-alnatour/muslims-are-not-terrorist_b_8718000.html [Accessed 10th January 2016]

[20] Perraudin, Frances, Siddique, Haroon, and Safi, Michael, ‘Syria Airstrikes: Britain Launches ‘Offensive Operation ‘ After Vote to Bomb Isis Targets – As it Happened’, from The Guardian (3rd December 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/dec/03/syria-airstrikes-britain-launches-bombing-against-isis-targets-rolling-report [Accessed 16th January 2016]

[21] Boukalas, Christos, Homeland Security, its Law and its State, (Routledge: London and New York. 2014).

[22] Chrisafia, Angelique, ‘France Passes New Surveillance Law in Wake of Charlie Hebdo Attack’, from The Guardian (5th May 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/05/france-passes-new-surveillance-law-in-wake-of-charlie-hebdo-attack [Accessed 20th December 2015]

[23] Carvajal, Doreen and Cowell, Alan, ‘Free Rein in Speech Backing Acts of Terror’, from International New York Times (January 15th 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/world/europe/french-rein-in-speech-backing-acts-of-terror.html?_r=0 [Accessed 14th January 2016]

[24] Nicholls, Peter, ‘London to Boost Number of Armed Police Following Paris Attacks’, from Reuters (14th January 2016) http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-security-london-idUKKCN0US16O20160114?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews [Accessed 23rd January 2016]

[25] Hughes, Mark, ‘Seven Mistakes that Cost Menezes his Life’, from The Independent (13th January 2008) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/seven-mistakes-that-cost-de-menezes-his-life-1064466.html [Accessed 10th February 2016]

[26] ‘Paris Attacks Suspect was on U.S. Radar’, from CNN (November 17th 2015) http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/11/17/paris-attack-alleged-mastermind-sciutto-dnt-tsr.cnn [Accessed 12th February 2016]

[27] ‘Bomb Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on UK Watch-List’, from BBC News (29th December 2009) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8432180.stm [Accessed 10th January 2016]

[28] ‘‘Able Danger’ could Rewrite History’, from Fox News (12th August 2005) http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/08/12/able-danger-could-rewrite-history.html [Accessed 5th February 2016]

[29] ‘Security Bodies ‘Knew of Bomber’’, from BBC News (3rd February 2006) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4679070.stm [Accessed 20th January 2016]

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