Media and terrorism

Schot, De Volkskrant, Netherlands /
“World news”

Malin C. A. Nikolaisen
Denver, Colo.

We live in a world overwhelmed with information, domestically and internationally, topped with an incredibly busy everyday life. Media is important to inform the public on the happenings in the world, and we often depend on media to comprehend what is going on.

However, the notion of free press in countries such as the U.S. and Norway is also a vital organ for transnational terrorists. Extremist groups use media to ensure that people get an understanding of their cause, to assemble new recruits, to receive funding, and to spread fear. Media is highly regarded in our society but should approach terrorism more carefully when considering its effect. I am not saying that media should overall stop covering terrorism, but they should be utterly cautious when doing so because we know that terrorism thrives on generating terror. It is important to understand that media and terrorism are in a mutually beneficial relationship where both parts will gain what they ultimately seek—audience and support.

Mass media has become a playground for terrorists to recruit new members through personal and public websites, discussion forums, social media, and evening news. The media should revise its use of sensationalized news when covering terrorism, since this is more harmful than helpful. We must understand that an audience is essential for terrorists to spread their ideology. Transnational terrorism is heard of on an everyday basis all over the world: if a terror attack occurs in Norway at this moment, it will spread across continents faster than the blink of an eye. The fact that endless media outlets publish photos, audio files, and video clips of terrorist actions, then repeatedly show these all over the news for weeks, does not deter terrorism. Showing photos of a terrorist, or a video of a hostage being tortured over and over again—just to get more viewers—is unnecessary. People do not need digital media to understand the seriousness of terrorist actions. However, showing portraits of terrorists or their actions, repeatedly, on any sort of media is a win for them. This is exactly what they are seeking, and it encourages people to join their cause. Terrorists are depending on countries with freedom of press to spread their story, all over the world.

Media can change this trend by ending their repetitive news coverage and ceasing to use digital media when covering cases of terrorism. For instance, on June 10, 2016, the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) published an article titled “Fearing terror towards popular vacation countries this summer.” A list of countries that have experienced terrorist attacks the past year is discussed in the article, which includes a video of a popular tourist spot where three people were killed. The article is telling us as readers that we should stay away from countries like Turkey, France, and Tunisia: “Norwegians travel more often than previously, and more travel to potentially vulnerable areas. Are Norwegian Embassies equipped to handle this?” This is not only creating negative stigma around those countries but also may encourage potential recruits to go there.

Another Norwegian newspaper, Bergens Tidende, published a timeline of the Brussels airport attack with dreadful photos and videos. Do we really need digital media to create an illustration in our heads of what had just happened at this airport? When the source itself, a terrorist or a terrorist group, releases videos of their actions, it is because they want it to be spread around so we can fear them even more. Today’s media culture shows that if one news channel publishes, then all others follow suit. There must be a way of limiting the domino effect of repetition.

Television, radio, internet, and newspapers have been integrated into societies all over the world. Media may be called corrupt in terms of focusing only on parts of the truth in many cases, misleading the audience, as well as freely choosing which cases they want to be involved in. However, this amazing network of technology and information-sharing outlets reaches billions of people every day and is, therefore, perfectly suited to perform for terrorist groups. It must, therefore, be used responsibly.

Further reading:
“Terrorism and the Media: A Dangerous Symbiosis,” by Arda Bilgen, E-International Relations, July 22, 2012, link:

Malin Cecilie Andreassen Nikolaisen, 23, is from Bergen, Norway, and currently works as a Campus Safety Officer in Denver, Colo. She is constantly seeking an understanding of what is going on in our world.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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