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Framing And Controlling Media Discourse On Terrorism Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3554 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Following the September 11 attacks in 2001 in America, terrorism obtained a global reputation and public reaction throughout the world. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It has existed from centuries ago. But that time (September 11, 2001) America was the terrorists’ target. It was the first time that such massive attack was spread among people around the world by live news. In recent years, the number of stories and news about terrorist and terrorism discourses has been increased, especially after September 11, 2001 in America and July 7, 2005 in London. The Media and the government, as the key institutions in every society, play significant role to create public knowledge toward terrorist and terrorism. It seems that the media, as a tool for presentation of the government’s policy, is used and controlled by government in coverage of news about terrorist and terrorism themes.

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In this essay I am going to address this question: who (which organisation) is managing and controlling media content and discourse about terrorism? According to literatures, (e.g. Hoffman 2006; Paletz 1992) the media is affected directly by government’s policy. On the other hand, the media may do the terrorists’ favours because the media can be also used by terrorists to spread their own news, information and beliefs across society and the world. Altheide (2006), Hoffman (2006) and paletz and Boiney (1992) argue that the media itself plays main role in managing and framing media discourse on terrorist. However, it seems that the media is a device that is used by both government and terrorists to impact on the public mind. Thus, they can utilize the media, negatively or positively, to achieve their goals, meaning that the media does not have complete control over its contents.

The reminder of this essay contains of section 2 that discusses about the definition of terrorism,. In section 3 addresses the question of the essay. Finally, section 4 provides the conclusion of the essay.

Terrorism and Terrorist

In fact, in the last hundred years, terrorism has not much changed.

However; a unique and complete definition of this phenomenon does not exist. Despite the expansion of terrorism and its importance for the international security, defining the term terrorism is still faced with uncertainty. One of the main reasons for this ambiguity may be the diversity of terrorist’s goals and the variety of terrorism forms. Therefore, there is no universally definition of terrorism. On the whole, the word terrorism (terror) means the panic and fear. Common definition of terrorism refers to violent acts and aggressive behaviours which lead to create fear or terror among people. Hoffman (2006) quotes from terrorism group that ”violent actions…. are shocking. We want to shock people; everywhere….It is our way of communicating with the people.” The concept of shock suggests creating fear and murder, threats and intimidation among people.

Among various definitions of terrorism, some of them are provided below:

The United State Department of Defence (DOD) define terrorism as ”the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to install fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.”

According to United Nation in (1992) terrorism means: ”An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby- in contrast to assassination- the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.”(http://www.terrorism-research.com)

The U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) describes terrorism as: ”the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Taylor (1986) cited in Cottle (2006) sees terrorism as the violence which is done by none -sates groups or individuals. Therefore, he believes that terrorism is not a state-oriented action. Cottle (2006) also believes that Taylor’s view is more appropriate than the view that points to the state terrorism. Taylor’s view (1986) is discussable since it seems that in countries with dictatorial government, state is upper hand in terror of oppositions. However, nowadays terrorism is an activity which is related to a particular actors or groups with special ideas. For example, some countries may tend to related terrorism to extremist Muslims. According to Gerrits (1992) cited in Paletz and Schmid (1992) “[t]he media may provide insurgent terrorists with a good dose of the ‘oxygen of publicity’, but censorship can provide a government with the ‘narcotic of secrecy’, which is an even bigger danger to democracy.”

Cottle (2006) argues that the words terrorists and terrorism are used to say that actions of rebels or/ and oppositions are unlawful and illegitimate. Taheri (1987) says ”for one man’s terrorist will always be another’s freedom fighter, but it can be said with certainly that terrorism is what terrorism does.” Although there is not a single view and perspective on terrorism description across the world, terrorism and terrorism related actions carry common concepts which are fear and illegitimating.

Types of terrorism

To identify who has upper hand in media discourse on terrorist it may be useful to study the types of terrorism.

State Terrorism: state terrorism usually refers to the state or states which intervene in the internal affairs of other governments in order to create fear or support of military operations, to weaken and overthrow a government.

Domestic Terrorism:

This kind of terrorism usually does anti-government activities to create fear among people to obtain attention (Powel, 2011).

International terrorism:

Emergence of international terrorism has increased in year 1983 (after the explosion of the Marine Battalion Landing Team Headquarters at Beirut International Airport.), and nowadays a considerable rise in international violence, especially in Asian countries, can be seen, especially after 2000 and 2001. The world has witnessed the victim of humans by international terrorism. It seems that international terrorism consists of domestic terrorism and state terrorism which support domestic terrorists. For example, serial explosions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in which thousands of women and children are sent to the slaughterhouse, can be interpreted as international terrorism activity.

Cyber terrorism:

Denning’s (2000) defines cyber terrorism as a violent attack to computer programmes, networks and secret information that leads to a severe fear and economic and political losses. Cyber terrorism is much more serious than the activity of hacker because cyber terrorism aims critical infrastructures of information technology of a country or government to obtain important information in order to use it against that government and/or special group.

As the main classical tool of terrorism is explosion and firearms, the main weapon of cyber terrorist is computer. There are many ways that terrorists can use the computer as a terrorism device. The most important methods of cyber terrorism are hacking and computer viruses, electronic espionage, identity theft and destruction or manipulation of information.

Who has upper hand in media discourse on terrorism?

This section is going to investigate the source of the media discourse on terrorism. On the whole, if we identify who (government, the media itself or terrorist) benefits from the forming the media content about terrorism we may address better the main question of the essay.

The Media or government?

The media are at the heart of events because the media would like to break news. Therefore, all the discussions about terrorism come from the media, especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks because it is the media that distribute the news of the terrorism and people are informed formally about the events by the media. Media, in particular, old media such as television, radio and newspaper, has become a platform for covering and publishing the terrorist’s activities in recent years.

As Paletz and Boiney (1992) discusses, Laqueur’s (1977) indicates that terrorists tend to attack free societies. The terrorist rational is that the media is free in these societies and, therefore, media can cover violent event and publish the related news immediately. It may mean that in tighten societies the media content and news are controlled by the government and violent events may not be covered completely by the media in such societies. For example, in countries such as Spain and Italy, the press has been prohibited to cover and spread terrorist notice. (O’balance, 1989) .This is what that terrorist does not like it.

The media are very well suited for the purposes of terrorists. Terrorists utilize different types of media to informed public people about their targets, values and ideas. Hoffman (2006) argues that terrorism can reach a wider target audience with the media because without media the effect of the act would be glancing. ”Without massive news coverage the terrorist act would resemble the proverbial tree falling in the forest: if no one learned of an incident, it would be as if it had not occurred.” (Nacos 2000)

Furthermore, Altheide (2006) discusses that the media is seen as an important part of public’s life and known as a kind of communication which conveys news and information beyond the margins. Therefore, the media is seen as a tool which can be used by various institutions and for different targets. The media is important for terrorists because without the media they cannot spread the terror news and also they can use the media as leverage on the governments to gain their political goals (Hoffman, 2006).

As the media is known as a linker between government and public it is, therefore, the best tool which government can use to inform people about incidents. Nowadays, the media have an inevitable role in promoting government programs and in creating an atmosphere to shape public opinion and decisions. Therefore, the media always has been regarded by governments. Governments with assistance of the media have achieved the unique power in the domestic and foreign area .Statesmen with using the media implement their policies and programs. Therefore, it is obvious that the government in each country have considerable dominance on the media. It can be seen that the media is a tool in the hands of statesmen and cannot act fully independently. Therefore, it might be true to say that when we discuss about the role of the media on framing and managing terrorism discourses, we investigate, in fact, the role and power of the sate which control the media content. However, one may say that the media itself is the first in managing and forming the contents on terrorism because reaction of the media to a terror and the way that the media coverage the related news are different and this may be criticized for damaging effects. The media may contribute terrorists to distribute fear among people or willingly and unwillingly provide terrorists with important information that worsen the situation in favour of terrorism and against the security and peace. This may cause authorities to meet some demands of terrorists to render the peace and calmness to the society. Cottle(2006) discusses that the media can have a progressive role in relation to violence and terror. In other words, it seems that media can encourage people to think about the causes and effects of terror and violence. This leads to form a pubic judge from people on the events. Cottle (2006) calls this phenomenon as ‘democratize violence’. However, in most cases the media may censor the fact of incidents, by media owners such as government, in corporate with public authorities to control and constraint the understanding of people of the event. (Paletz and Boiney, 1992). According to Nosseke (1985) cited in Paletz and Boiney (1992) ”the best way to avoid the impact of the mass media is to prevent the occurrences of terrorist attacks.” Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the media, especially the old media, form and manage all news of terrorism directly and independently without the control of the governmental authorities.


Since terrorism likes a permanent non-normal situation and fear after its act and media contributes to create such a situation, terrorism is the first to wish control over the media.

Miller (1982) argues that there is a relationship between media and terrorism. This relationship is inseparable because the media always covers the terrors news. Terrorism also would like to receive attention of the media. ”Terrorism, like an ill mannered enfant terrible, is the media’s stepchild, a stepchild which the media, unfortunately, can neither completely ignore deny.”(Powell, 2011)

There are various factors which encourage terrorist to use different types of the media (e.g. the Internet) such as depressing their enemies such as government, creating fear among public, being famous to the public by spreading their targets and release their massages through the media.

New media, in particular the Internet, has been increasingly used by terrorists to reach their goals. The evidence shows that the old media has been replaced by the Internet especially in covering terrorism discourses because of accessing speed to the news and events on the Internet. Nowadays, terrorists are not restricted geographically and are not dependent on a particular state politically or financially. To reach their murderous goals, they rely on their advanced communication capabilities, including the Internet. All terrorists have particular websites where they can communicate with their readers and followers and also can convey their propaganda. According to Hoffman (2006), “almost without exception, all major (and many minor) terrorist and insurgent groups have Web sites.” He then quotes from an American Internet researcher at the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcast and Information Service (FBIS): “These days, if you’re not on the web, you don’t exist.” Thus, in virtual space and the new media environment terrorism is able to manage the media discourse and contents on the terrorism issues more freely than the traditional media because public authorities of a society can control over the old media much better than the new media though government, for example, can block some websites and filter them.

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Terrorism and the Internet both are related to each other. First, the Internet is a space for the both group and individual terrorists to spread their messages of hate and violence. Second, both individuals and groups have tried to attack some computer networks. This attack is known as cyber-terrorism. Communication via computer is ideal for terrorists because it cannot be controlled, limited or censored and it is free to access for everyone. Moreover, the audiences of the Internet are massive, larger than old media and it is easy, fast and inexpensive to access. More importantly, new media audiences can access a multimedia environment. For example, they can use texts, videos and songs simultaneously.

Many Internet sites are used by terrorist for psychological war against governments and their military. They put terrible images and movie clips of executed hostages and captives on web sites or show militaries’ vehicles which have been blown up with roadside bombings or suicide. For example, Al-Zarqawi in May 2004 put on the Internet some films of cutting off the head of a US hostage. Sometimes terrorists use famous web sites like YouTube which is the best place to spread terrorists’ news and notices is. Terrorists use text messages and video to weak the enemy morale and scare him. Thus, it seems that terrorism is not controllable with the existence of the new media. They are able publish easily their own news, values and activities with the new media (and even with some news channel of TV). The audience can access the original publications of terrorist the Internet. This suggests that terrorism has upper hand in managing the media discourses on terrorism.


According to the literatures, it is still difficult to identify who is behind the media content and discourses on terrorism or who manages the media about the terrorism issues.

However, nowadays, it can be seen that terrorism can use not only the old media but also electronic and virtual media. The media is very important for terrorists. For example, they use the media to spread some films and videos of attacks to create fear and force government or politicians to do a certain work for terrorists. With the development of the new media such as the Internet, mobile phone and etc. terrorism has been capable to manage the media contents. In this respect, terrorism has upper hand in framing the new media content for itself, though power is in hands of dominant government.

Government and politician authorities use the media to apply their policy and control society. Therefore, they usually delete some terrorism related news, present incomplete information and delayed news to the audience or may be able to filter some web sites that are against of their polices. Therefore, we can conclude that the media is an important tool to frame and create discourses on terrorism and both government and terrorist have been trying to control and use the media, old and new, for their particular objectives in various ways. It seems that even in a society with free expression and complete democracy the media cannot choose a policy completely against government’s policy, especially in the terrorism issues because government and state has power and control over the media. However, in the virtual environment of the media (e.g. the Internet) the control power of the government has been violated and terrorists have been able to present themselves more freely and form their own news contents.


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