Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)

Research Article: 2018 Vol: 21 Issue: 2

International Terrorism and Mass Media

Iryna N Sopilko, National Aviation University

Maryna O Medvedieva, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Arif G Guliiev, National Aviation University

Sergiy D Bilotsky, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Oleksandr N Bukhanevych, Khmelnytskyi University of Management and Law

Dmytro I Sirokha, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

T?tiana A Terekhova, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv


In this article a number of statements concerning the reason that the main objective of a terror is an intimidation, which is often earned out through the mass media is considered. Information pressure makes an impact on the mentality of millions of people, directors, destabilizes the socio-political situation in the country and in the whole world. The fight against terrorism is a long, complex and constantly on-going process. Free media are an essential component of the democratic society; they can also contribute to the protection of the democratic freedoms. The axiom is the thesis that the media, with a clear understanding of their responsibility, can and should contribute significantly to the rapid and successful suppression of terrorist acts.


Mass Media, Terrorism, Terrorist Organizations, Internet, Rights and Freedoms, Satellite Transmission.

JEL Classification: K14, K19, K33


The problem of international terrorism is inextricably linked with the identification of the role of the media in terrorist activities. The purpose of the article shows that for democratic societies the problem of the correlation of freedom of speech and its negative consequences caused by the coverage of terrorism (Akimzhanov et al., 2017; Guliyev, 2011b) in the mass media (or the media) is of particular actual importance. As terrorism analyst G. Strasman pointed out,

“Publicity, perhaps, is the vital oxygen for terrorists, but the news-it is the blood of freedom” (Strasman, 1991).

The first level of interaction and mutual influence of mass media and international terrorism, first, is characteristic for electronic media. The reason for this not well-founded interest is the absence of the desire to satisfy the mass tastes. Nevertheless, the problem of violence, crime and terrorism, indicates V.N. Dremin, is one of the most popular topics in the media. According to V.N. Dremin, this popularity is connected primarily to crimes eccentricity and demand for viewer’s and reader’s information on crimes and explains the features of the human psychics. This creates the appearance of crime, which volume and content does not coincide with the real situation (Dremin, 2000). Thus, the media reproduce and exaggerate the problem of terrorism.

In pursuit of the most vivid and exclusive story, the media are making passive cooperation with terrorists, becoming an instrument in the implementation of terror (Korotkiy, 2003). Thus, mass media reproduce and hyperbolize the problem of terrorism.

International terrorism has turned into an industry that includes selection, ideological and psychological training, and professional training of personnel, especially suicide bombers (Kikotya & Eriashvili, 2004). Implementation of a terrorist action requires a multi-million financing (Vozzhenikov, 2005). This new type of violence is significantly different from other forms of organized crime. The violence of traditional organized crime is aimed at achieving financial benefits, whereas terrorist actions are always aimed at achieving political goals (Netanyahu, 2002).

The paradox is that the goals of terrorists and the media coincide, although the attitude towards the victims is exactly the opposite. The media prioritized coverage of the OAS (Organisation armée secrete, or Secret Army Organisation) terror in the 1960s in France; in the 1970s. “Red Brigades” in Italy, the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, the explosions at railway stations, museums, theatres and restaurants, murders of politicians, bankers, police officers. The terrorist war in Northern Ireland and on the streets of British cities, the occupation terror of Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Abkhazia and Ossetia, the Crimea and the east of Ukraine lasts for decades. Palestinian terrorism declared itself at the Munich Olympics. Basque terrorists ETA, Libyan terrorism, aircraft seizures, Japanese extremists, undeclared war in Chechnya, Moscow explosions, Volgodonsk, Buinaksk. September 11, 2001 in New York-all, these are modern terrorism.

Even in the Middle Ages, announcements of executions were widely distributed through heralds in squares and bazaars. Now the terrorists, after hostage taking, in the first place need the media to declare their demands. Reports are broadcasted, and the media does not prevent this from happening. Many terrorist organizations are trying to take over responsibility for an attack, even if they are not to be blamed for it. “Red Brigades” in Italy have tried to carry out terrorist attacks on Saturday in order the reports on them were published in the Sunday papers. Large terrorist organizations have their own media-newspapers, radio and television programs. According to this need, in the context of globalization, international terrorism must be seen not only as a threat to the individual states, but also a challenge to the whole humanity. This predetermined number of fundamentally new characteristics of the terror in the era of globalization in the most developed countries (Guliyev, 2011a).

For a comprehensive analysis of the links between terrorism and the media in the information age, T.R. Korotkiy considers it expedient to single out several basic levels: firstly, the use of the media as a means of terror; secondly, the influence of the media on the coverage of the operational situation during the conduct of the terrorist act and their role in negotiating with terrorists; thirdly, the media importance in shaping public opinion about terror (Korotkiy, 2003).

The definition of the interaction of terrorism and the media at each of these levels will make it possible to most clearly trace the systemic links between them and focus on measures to reduce the possibility of using information systems in carrying out terrorist acts and to increase the antiterrorist potential with the help of the media.

In 1986, a special governmental group to combat terrorism in the United States published a report on media activities that can cause problems in crises. They included: intensive TV coverage, which can limit or deprive the government of the advantages in choosing actions to curb the terrorist act; political dialogue with terrorists or hostages; transformation of journalists into participants in the incident and negotiations; payment for terrorist’s interviews; notification about the plans of anti-terrorist units involved in the operation to neutralize the terrorists; contradictory statements by representatives of various governmental bodies, creating the impression of confusion, which is one of the aims of terrorists. In addition, the media as an arbitrator usurps the legal responsibility of the government (Korotkiy and Miniukhina, 2002).

Thus, we can say that the media make of terrorist screen stars. Mass communication enhances repeatedly the effect of the explosion. Moreover, the media are trying to dramatize events as much as possible, enhancing the effect, interest and fear of the townsfolk; without those terrorists will lose not only glory, but also financing. Terrorists need a PR effect, and for the terrorist attack September 11, 2001, they choose the World Trade Centre, a symbol of financial power, which collapsed in front of astonished viewers (Barskiy, 2007; Dunne, 2011).

Hostage takings by terrorists are always accompanied by an appeal not only to the media, but also to the institutions of central government bodies and top state officials. Hostages upon the orders of terrorists immediately alert the whole world about the act of terror. They always demand negotiations at the highest level and are not happy if the victims do not provide this level. Spectators spend days and nights with 24-hour TVs, waiting for news about the fate of the hostages.

Terrorists, speculating on the democratic principles of a liberal state, push the objects of terror to renounce liberal values, from civil rights and freedoms (Zharinov, 1999). The authorities are forced to take the path of total control in order to curb terror without sacrificing the basic principles of a liberal civilization.

Modern terrorism as a phenomenon has pronounced characteristics: international and media (Antipenko, 2011).

Terrorism coverage in the media has two major threats. The first one is a “spiral of violence”, arising from the “immunization effect”. The constant coverage of terrorism “brutalizes” society, raising the threshold for an acceptable level of violence in it (“immunization”), and terrorists have to take more violent actions to attract attention (the “spiral of violence”). The second one is the “effect of infection”. It lies in the fact that the activities of the media itself contribute to the spread of terrorism.

Terrorist attacks are one of the loudest events, especially if they are time-consuming (like, for example, taking hostages). In this case, the most important thing must be control of the media, whose actions may threaten the lives of the hostages.

The key moment is the “democracy dilemma” described by the well-known researcher of terrorism and democracy issues, Professor Paul Wilkinson: the fight against terrorism is most effective with the means that contradict the very nature of democracy (Wilkinson, 2006). This seems to be related to the opposition of the right to life (security) and freedom of speech, which is often at the centre of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the media.

In the conditions of the existence of global media (such as CNN or BBC), the problem of managing terrorism coverage for any government has two components: local and global. If control over their own media for most governments seems possible, it becomes problematic in respect of the global mass media corporations. At the same time, the consequence of competition between them is that any (even hypothetical) loss of ratings leads to a significant loss in the fight against rivals. In addition, terrorism, especially when it comes to hostage taking, is one of the most “rating” events on television.

In general, no mechanisms for limiting the media are without serious shortcomings. The main task of this article is to outline each of them in more detail.

Data Analysis and Results

The value of this mechanism within the framework of democracy is of particular importance, since the media themselves draw up restrictions (the so-called “press codes”) for covering terrorism, which generally contain such provisions:

1. Access to the site of events will be provided only with the consent of law enforcement officers responsible for communication with the media, under their reliable protection and only if all participants are guaranteed safety.

2. Actions of media representatives should not endanger the lives of victims (hostages) and other persons.

3. Direct interviews with terrorists and their hostages are prohibited.

4. The media have no right to transmit information that could damage the course of the hostage rescue operation.

5. The media should not broadcast or publish terrorist claims without the permission of authorized persons.

6. Incident coverage should be objective.

7. Taking into account the situation, media relations officers should conduct briefings, provide opportunities for organizing interviews with decision makers, etc. (Dunne, 2016).

8. The media commit themselves to refrain from sensational and panic-inducing headlines, as well as from the constant reproduction of bloody photographs (and bloody images on TV).

9. When covering terrorist attacks, the media should take into account the feelings of hostages, other victims, their relatives.

The media during the coverage of the terrorist act, among other things, should not: heroize acts of terrorism; to pay and get payment for the coverage of terrorist acts; assume the role of mediators in the negotiations; to make premature conclusions and unfounded conclusions about possible terrorist plans and actions of law enforcement agencies; to succumb to the provocation of terrorists seeking to cover in the media specially prepared “performances” (those acts of terrorists that are conducted solely for the sake of increasing the entertaining character of the whole terrorist attack in relation to media representation) (Cohen-Almagor, 2005)

A “Code of the press” often establishes some general principles, meanwhile a journalist working in live, does not always have sufficient competence to decide if it is possible to transmit certain information or not.

One of the leading researchers of this problem R. Dowling notes:

“Understanding of spectacular terrorism as a kind of rhetoric explains the impossibility of its prevention through voluntary media self-restrictions” (Dowling, 1982).

In turn, representatives of the media seriously fear that voluntary self-restrictions will gradually become mandatory and will be expressed in the imposition on the part of the authorities of conditions for participation in the coverage of events and obtaining licenses for broadcasting. In addition, the media (especially in democratic countries) painfully perceive such rules of conduct as a threat to freedom of speech.

For terrorists, these self-restrictions create obstacles in the media presentation of their activities, so they can lead to an escalation of violence and demands to get live broadcast.

This approach is in many respects a variant of the strategy of non-intervention, which assumes that the media themselves will introduce certain restrictions in their work. However, as one can observe, media corporations now represent a form of business, and in part-show business. Where the profits are great, the role of morality and self-restraint is often extremely low.

More serious than the voluntary self-restriction of the media is the government's introduction of censorship in one form or another.

In this case, there is a threat of unwinding the “spiral of violence”. According to R. Dowling, in the conditions of bans on coverage, potential television terrorists, disappointed by such actions, can develop more horrific media events that, due to their characteristics, will receive guaranteed coverage in the media, and this will lead to an escalation of violence (Dowling, 1989).

According to a military public relations specialist with more than 32 years of experience, a Canadian colonel in retirement, T. Dunne, the obstacles to media coverage of terrorist attacks will force terrorists to increase the level of violence in order to be sure that Western media will not be able to ignore the terrorist act (Zonova, 2003; Guliyev, 2012b). Similar findings are made by the expert on the interaction of terrorism and the media from Maryland University (USA) L. Martin: “With tightening control over the media, terrorists may have to increase their activity, and, apparently, there is a critical mass terrorism, which breaks through the barriers in the media” (Martin, 2008). Thus, even if the “communication breakthrough” for whatever reasons is not realized or not fully realized, the idea of terrorists will find its partial representation. The communication structure of the terrorist attack presupposes a message not only for “outsiders” (the society of a particular country, its authorities, the world community), but also for “insiders” (accomplices of terrorists and members of a terrorist group or its network).

“The message will be sent to them regardless of the coverage received by the very fact of the terrorist act” (Dowling, 1982).

Notwithstanding the above mentioned, censorship in the matter of covering terrorism is the most effective of the theoretically possible methods of control. The problem is that it is inapplicable (or practically inapplicable) in democratic countries. Here we have to deal with a manifestation of “democracy dilemma”: if for the fight against terrorism it is necessary to sacrifice one of freedoms (such as freedom of speech), we can assume that terrorism is defeated.

This, of course, is a maximalist position, but it often turns out that the very fact of concession, rather than its degree, matters.

The opposite approach to censorship is to provide terrorists with access to the media.

A known analyst and expert on the interaction of terrorism and the media, R. Picard writes:

“One of the trends in the study of terrorism suggests that media representation can reduce the likelihood of future acts of violence on the part of those involved in terrorist activities. After all, individuals and groups in this case will not have to resort to violence in order to get coverage” (Picard, 1986).

However, as a result, terrorists are deprived of the opportunity to “justify themselves for messages transmitted through acts of violence and untranslatable in verbal form. Free access will only allow terrorists to present their complaints and ideological views in the hope of convincing us of their rightness”, objecting to R. Picard, concludes R. Dowling. In addition, we must not forget that terrorism has a self-contained logic. For terrorists for the sake of competitive rivalry with the discourse of power in the media it is very difficult to give up the control methods that have proved effective, even if the relative one. Although terrorism has the character of an end in itself, it has, nevertheless, very specific, even global goals. Their achievement will be even more problematic in the case of access to the media.

The essence of contextual coverage is that the media should reduce the spectacular nature of terrorist attacks and provide the audience with information about the size, strategy and objectives of terrorist groups in the format required by the government. The disadvantages of this approach, as R. Dowling notes, are

“In ignoring the message sent to “insiders” and in reducing the quality of coverage of the event. The only positive outcome of contextual coverage is that terrorists are not able to create an atmosphere of excessive horror” (Dowling, 1982).

Expert on the study of terrorism Professor of Economics, University of Zurich (Switzerland) B. Frey proposed a different approach to this problem. It is called “dissipation of attention” and consists in reducing the media attention paid to terrorist reports by providing more alternative information. Terrorists in the end do not receive attention, which they theoretically should have been received (Frey, 2004).

Further, B. Frey describes the positive consequences of this strategy through the definition of possible terrorist responses to its use. Firstly, terrorists can present evidence of their involvement, for example, provide video recordings, photographs or other documentary evidence. However, this will serve as an additional trump card in the hands of law enforcement agencies in the matter of their exposure. Secondly, the increase in terrorist activity may result in the risk of being caught by the police. Thirdly, the terrorists could, at least temporarily abandon its tactics. In addition, this is the most desirable outcome for governments. At the same time, it seems unlikely that terrorists will change violent methods of struggle. Instead, they are likely to resort to escalating violence and launching a communication campaign in their own or more loyal foreign media.

B. Frey himself notes counter-arguments against the method of “dissipating the attention” of the media. The first of these is that a society may suspect a concealment of information. Therefore, there will be fears of suppression of freedom of speech and conspiracy by the government, and the most logical answer “Only the court can identify the guilty” is complicated by the problem of catching the guilty.

Public opinion about terror plays an important role in resolving the problem of terrorism, and has a significant influence on the formation of legislation on terrorism in the future.

Therefore, in Ukraine and Azerbaijan, the legislation regulating the activities of the media contains a significant list of information that is prohibited for dissemination through the mass media. For example, information cannot be used for overthrowing the constitutional order, violating territorial integrity, propagating war, violence, brutality, inciting racial, national, religious enmity, encroachment on human rights and freedoms (Law of Ukraine on Information, 1992). It would also be advisable to supplement this general formulation by pointing out the inadmissibility of “propagating and spreading the ideology of terrorism”. In addition, the mechanism for implementing responsibility and assessing information in terms of its compliance with the requirements of the law should be exclusively judicial.

Generally, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Ukraine adhere to the norms contained in international acts universally recognized by international community (Guliyev, 2012a). For example, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, either orally, in writing or in print”

While Article 20 provides that

“Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law” (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966).

These provisions are mutually restricting each other, not allowing one or another right to prevail.

Such norms are contained in the Model Law on Combating Terrorism adopted by the Antiparliamentary Assembly of the CIS member states on December 8, 1998 (Model Law on Combating Terrorism, 1998). The law contains provisions on responsibility for the dissemination of information related to the fight against terrorism (revealing methods and tactics of conducting counter-terrorist operations; capable of hampering such operations and creating a threat to life and health of people; serving as propaganda or justification of terrorism and extremism; containing information on law enforcement officers and special services involved in counter-terrorism operations, as well as on persons providing assistance in carrying out these operations).

The media express the interests of society, various social groups and individuals. Moreover, the main factor here is objectivity. Mark Twain's phrase became a well-known one:

“If you do not read newspapers-you are not informed. If you read newspapers-you are misinformed”.

Through the formation of public opinion, the development of certain social attitudes, the formation of beliefs, the media is pushing people to certain deeds and actions. The media also express and shape public opinion, which is commonly seen as collective judgments of people, the manifestation of ordinary or mass consciousness.

The effectiveness of any counter-terrorist communication strategy in the context of a terrorist attack is determined by the above characteristics of information delivery, as well as the logic of media actions. In terms of specific acts of terrorism, governments need to develop a strategy and tactics of behaviour that would guarantee the right to know to the public and the right to transmit information, to the media.


The main positions of the productive communication counter-terrorism strategy, expressed by T. Dunne (Dunne, 2016), look as follows:

1. The development of the strategy itself (law enforcement) and development of its implementation in order to ensure an adequate, balanced and objective coverage of the events, which reflects the situation in the proper context and perspective.

2. The presence of experienced staff with a clearly defined range of responsibilities, for the time of the terrorist act, which is free from other operational work.

3. Arrangement of a media centre, from where reporters could send materials, where it would be possible to hold briefings, etc. It is advisable to do this if there is a possibility that the incident will last more than one day.

4. The introduction of an accreditation system to participate in the coverage of terrorist acts.

5. The creation of a “pool” of journalists, the most experienced in the field of terrorism coverage, who can share information with each other. With this point, R. Cohen-Almagor, Professor of the Department of Policy Studies and International Relations at the University of Hull, UK, agrees: “Only the most experienced journalists should be able to conduct coverage of the event” (Cohen-Almagor, 2005).

Together, these facilities are designed to form a comprehensive counter-terrorism communication environment. Within its framework, the actions of the media and authorities will be closely linked with each other, and the role of civil society, which will create a special cognitive background for perceptions of terrorist attacks, will increase immeasurably.

Particularly it should be emphasized that none of the existing approaches to managing the media representation of international terrorism does not give a 100% result. In solving this problem, the “dilemma of democracies” is actualized, since the most effective actions are contrary to its basic principles. At the same time, the problem of limitations in covering terrorist attacks is confronted with the organizational structure of media representation. The activities of international media corporations are very difficult to control. At the same time, they are commercial and dependent on ratings.

According to James Lukaszewski, an employee of the American Public Relations Society, organizations that are designed to reduce the negative consequences of media coverage of terrorism in the matter of providing information to them should be guided by the following principles: accessibility of information (in case of lack of information, the media will look for other channels of its receipt, which may appear supporters of terrorists or even terrorists themselves); clarity of information and its performance nature, satisfying the needs of the media; timeliness of the provision of information; correctness in the submission of information.

A radical change in the international situation was accompanied by the emergence of new acute problems, common to many states and extending far beyond national borders. The information revolution and the emergence of the Internet have sharply stimulated the process of globalization in all spheres of human life (Guliyev, 2011a). The government, the society and the media have a global task to create a counter-terrorist communication environment, that is, conditions for receiving and transmitting information that would infringe upon human rights and freedoms in a minimal way, but at the same time to the most possible extent impede the execution by terrorists of their communication intentions.

Conclusions and Directions for Further Research

1. Since terrorists use the media to achieve their goals, countering terrorism must also include a strategy for the media: the arena of a modern antiterrorist war can be both a television screen and a real battlefield.

2. Media, journalistic, publishing and broadcasting organizations, academic institutions and other structures of civil society should take measures to expand their ability to professionally report on terrorism and promote tolerance, including through training and providing opportunities for discussing ethical issues related to the coverage of terrorism.

3. An effective strategy for the media is an essential element in international measures against terrorism. The challenge from the part of terrorism of the 21st century is as follows: how the media in an atmosphere of fierce competition will be able to preserve democratic responsibility and at the same time provide the public with comprehensive information without turning into a worldwide propaganda tribune of terrorists to express their hatred.

4. Thus, international efforts against terrorism require, along with the coordination of media strategies among the governments of countrie’s that are fighting against terrorism, also the participation of global media that understand their democratic responsibility. Objective and critical coverage of events does not contradict the duty to protect those rights and freedoms that the terrorists are trying to destroy. An effective media strategy aimed at combating terrorism should guarantee those freedoms, which countries with a democratic structure want to protect and which will not be destroyed through their efforts to combat terrorism.

5. The most acceptable form remains self-censorship. In addition, it is necessary to create groups to manage the coverage of terrorism in the media.

6. Actions of a (self) restrictive nature should be global and comprehensive, since non-compliance by at least one of the key players on the information field will lead to the refusal by the rest from the proposed rules.

7. In many countries, “press codes” have been adopted, but not always, they are mandatory. Therefore, now, alas, there is no common opinion in solving the problem. In order to develop common guidelines for reporting on terrorism, it is necessary to carefully analyse the role of the media in these events.

8. For the media, it is important: to have access to the sources of information originating from both terrorists and employees of special services, and direct victims of the terrorist act, their relatives and friends; operational scope, that is, the ability to record and transmit information; data verification sources.

9. We believe that the criterion for working in the proposed research direction is the formation of a complex antiterrorist communication environment, which is referred by certain analysts as counter-terrorist. It is within this effective atmosphere that the actions of the media and authorities will be closely linked with each other, and the role of civil society, which will create a special cognitive background for perceptions of terrorist attacks, will increase immeasurably.


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