Me­dia must un­der­stand today’s ter­ror­ism

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - THE MYAN­MAR TIMES news­room@mm­

THE me­dia is caught in the mid­dle be­tween the rise of ter­ror­ism and the fight against ter­ror­ism around the world, and is on the front lines re­port­ing what hap­pens when at­tacks tar­get civil­ian pop­u­la­tions.

Such con­cerns have en­cour­aged UNESCO to is­sue a hand­book for jour­nal­ists on cov­er­ing ter­ror­ism, writ­ten by Jean-paul Marthoz, a vet­eran jour­nal­ist and pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ism at the Catholic Univer­sity of Lou­vain, Bel­gium.

He sug­gests use­ful tips to tackle this phe­nom­e­non. First of all, the word ter­ror­ism must be un­der­stood in the right con­text. “One per­son’s ter­ror­ist is an­other per­son’s free­dom fighter,” and “Today’s ter­ror­ist is to­mor­row’s states­per­son,” are two pop­u­lar phrases that have be­come clichés in the me­dia.

There­fore, Marthoz sug­gests that what­ever term jour­nal­ists like to use, they have to un­der­stand its im­pli­ca­tions be­cause those terms are not neu­tral. Since 1996, in­ter­na­tional ef­forts un­der the aus­pices of Un­re­lated agen­cies have worked hard to come up with a work­ing def­i­ni­tion of ter­ror­ism. Fi­nally, they agreed to use the word to re­fer to “any ac­tion that is in­tended to cause death or se­ri­ous bod­ily harm to civil­ians or non­com­bat­ants, when the pur­pose of such an act, by its na­ture or con­text is to in­tim­i­date a pop­u­la­tion, or to com­pel a gov­ern­ment or an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion to do or ab­stain from do­ing any act.”

The au­thor also raised the no­tion of “state ter­ror­ism” and its mean­ing. For the me­dia, it refers to a state’s bru­tal ac­tions against its po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies. Tor­ture, forced dis­ap­pear­ances, se­lec­tive assig­na­tions of op­po­nents and wide­spread mas­sacres are some ex­treme mea­sures used by es­tab­lished pow­ers against their op­po­nents.

In re­port­ing news about ter­ror­ism, jour­nal­ists could face laws that pe­nalise its glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. Then, the fre­quently asked ques­tion is: what qual­i­fies as glo­ri­fy­ing ter­ror­ism? The an­swer rests with the close­ness be­tween me­dia and so-called “ter­ror­ist” or­gan­i­sa­tions. Their re­ports over time would de­ter­mine whether they have vi­o­lated the law.

Fi­nally, the me­dia needs to re­port on dif­fer­ent forms of ter­ror­ism. Dur­ing 1960-1980, the news mainly cov­ered ter­ror­ism linked to the ex­treme right and left and pro-in­de­pen­dence move­ments. While such ter­ror­ism has not com­pletely dis­ap­peared, today “re­li­giously-in­spired ter­ror­ism” at­tracts the most at­ten­tion. At the mo­ment, at­tacks in­sti­gated by or­gan­i­sa­tions claim­ing to fol­low Is­lam, gen­er­ate the widest me­dia cov­er­age.

How­ever, cy­bert­er­ror­ism has be­come a treat all over the world re­cently due to wide­spread in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity. Ac­cord­ing to Marthoz, ex­perts es­ti­mate that there is no great risk today that ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions will use cy­bert­er­ror­ism to ini­ti­ate and se­ri­ously dis­rupt the func­tion of a state or any of its strate­gic in­sti­tu­tions or fa­cil­i­ties.

There is a big con­cern that there could be a com­bi­na­tion of a cy­ber­at­tack and a “con­ven­tional” at­tack to dis­rupt the re­ac­tion of se­cu­rity ser­vices and hos­pi­tals.

The au­thor be­lieves that such at­tacks are more likely to be gov­ern­ment strate­gies. How­ever, there is grow­ing aware­ness of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of states and large com­pa­nies and their de­pen­dence on in­for­ma­tion sys­tems.

Other ter­ror­ism in­cludes gang­ster ter­ror­ism and narco-ter­ror­ism. The first term refers to the co­ex­is­tence of crim­i­nal­ity and ter­ror­ism com­mit­ted by delin­quents and is some­times used to re­fer to the mafia.

In the book’s for­ward, Frank La Rue, UNESCO as­sis­tant di­rec­tor-gen­eral for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­for­ma­tion, said the me­dia is crit­i­cal in pro­vid­ing ver­i­fi­able in­for­ma­tion and in­formed opin­ion. In the tense en­vi­ron­ment of a cri­sis, he points out, with pop­u­la­tions on edge and tem­pers flared, this be­comes all the more im­por­tant.

He ob­served that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ter­ror­ism and me­dia is com­plex and fraught with dan­ger. “At its worst, it is a per­verse sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship – ter­ror­ist groups de­vis­ing spec­ta­cles of vi­o­lence to con­tinue draw­ing the world’s at­ten­tion, and the me­dia in­cen­tivized to pro­vide wall-to-wall cov­er­age due to huge au­di­ence in­ter­est.”

La Rue con­cluded that ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism will likely be with us for some time. “Yet if we can work to­gether to re­duce the ex­plo­sive rhetoric, overblown cov­er­age and stig­ma­ti­sa­tion of mi­nor­ity groups, per­haps some of the in­cen­tive to com­mit vi­o­lence against civil­ians will dis­ap­pear along with it.”

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