All over the world we see various actors staging violence against civilians to raise fear and distrust. We see residents in many countries convinced that terrorism signifies the most significant threat to their daily lives. We see political movements that take advantage of catastrophe and put people against each other in order to maximize electoral benefits from a few. It is important to ponder on how the media may unconsciously be contributing to this tense climate, and how it can address this.
Terrorism and violent extremism are not new; countries on the continent and beyond have suffered for years from internal and/or external individuals or groups exacting vengeance on hapless citizens.
The relationship between terrorism and media is very complex; it can even be argued that it is a perversely symbiotic relationship. On the one hand, the media are critical in providing certifiable information and informed opinions; they must, as a matter of duty and principle, report the acts of terrorism or insurgency as they occur. This role becomes all the more important during times of crisis and calamity as balanced, nuanced reporting can be the difference between tempers cooling and outright destruction. On the other hand, terrorist groups feed on coverage by the media, and attain new levels of violence to draw global attention to their notoriety via coverage by the media.
In all of this, there are the citizens suffering at the hand of insurgents and extremist groups operating in their communities.
It is important to note that the goal of these violent actors is not to bring terror for terror’s sake. They do not wish to produce fear in the minds of men and women simply because of their interests and ideology. Their real objective is to split society down completely which will turn people against each other by provoking discrimination, conflict and disagreement. They aim to instantaneously demonstrate themselves right in their predictions of widespread oppression and to draw new followers to their violent cause. They seek to create a frame of mind of negativity in the face of attacks and diverged reactions.
The real risk of violent extremism and terrorism is that fear, panic and suspicion will drive a new trend of nationalism, and that the self-determination and liberty we have all worked so hard to achieve will be destroyed on the altar of revenge. These are not attacks on one nation or people, but attacks on all of us as global citizens. We should be careful about any response that falls into the hands of violent actors, and which causes its own targets who become idealists for further terrorist recruitment.
In these times, many media organizations experiencing severe financial challenges, journalists must resist the urge to overstate matters in the interest of attracting an audience. They must keep a worldwide perspective, and focus their attention to the words they use, the examples they give, and the images they display. They must avoid assumption when there is confusion following an attack when nothing is known, yet the demand for information is possibly the strongest of all.
They must deliberate carefully because of the fact that there is something basic in terrorism as a violent act that incites fear in many which is usually far inconsistent to the actual level of risk at that time. They must do all of this while ensuring they do not put themselves in a dangerous situation in the quest of a story. Thus, they must avoid promoting division, hatred and radicalization at all levels of society.
The problems and challenges that occur are clear. Citizens expect the media to inform and enlighten them as completely as possible without going overboard or resorting to exaggeration. Therefore, the established order calls for restrictions by warning against the risks of excessive coverage for the integrity of operations and for the peace of the population. There have been accusations of that local and international media are the amplifiers of terrorism and violent extremism to attract audiences.
The media must evaluate their coverage in the light of ethical rules. They must establish whether it was inconsistent, whether it sparked public enjoyment of seeing pain or distress of others, whether it presented itself as being inactive during the activities of the intervention forces and whether it served as an amplifier for the terrorists and violent extremists. Thus, the role of journalism schools, their associations, and their ethical councils is very vital and they should hold these debates and thus contribute to a culture of strong, independent media that is safe, factual, and representative of all the sides of any story.