Media Coverage of Terrorist Attacks

           The government should be able to regulate and restrict the extent of media coverage of terrorist attacks.  Reports indicate that even broadcasting of violence in the media could bring about more harm than good . The results of this research have and will continue to trigger further deliberations on how the media around the world responds to atrocities committed by terrorist cells.

          Michael Jetter, a professor at Universidad EAFIT, in Colombia’s capital, Medellin and a researcher at the Institute for Labor Study in Germany’s city of Bonn, analyzed terror attacks from 1970 to 2012; these are more than 60000 attacks as per the New York Times. Jetter also indicates that in the past one and a half decades, there has been an exponential increase in terror attacks all over the world. There were 1395 terror attacks in 1998, this figure has risen steadily to 8441 attacks in the year 2012 (The Global Terrorism Database). Videos posted online showing beheadings by terrorists have spread fear of these cells all over the world. This raises the issue of whether these kinds of groups should receive such airtime. Every TV and radio station and newspapers have terror attacks as their headlines as soon as they occur, not considering that these terror cells need media coverage to spread their propaganda and recruit new members.

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          To prove the results of his findings, Jetter compared terrorist attacks that were headline-grabbing and those which took place while there was a concurrent bigger story which instead made the headlines then for instance national disasters like floods and earthquakes. There was established a direct link between headline-grabbing acts of terror and subsequent attacks over the next month or even weeks. Jetter’s research backs up initial findings by other economists which suggest that terrorism results to media attention and vice versa, which leads to a spiral which is inflationary.

                                     Troubling Episodes

          A review by Rand Corporation which included 63 terrorist activities from 1968 to 1978 indicated 100% publicity gain by terrorists (Bell, 1978). Some of these episodes were ethically problematic. They aided terrorists and elongated violent episodes of held hostages. When American  Diplomats were held in Tehran for 444 days, they were only let go after their captors squeezed every drop of publicity they could get (Laqueur,1987).In this case, the media could not realize the position they had put President Carter in, as they mostly dwelled on hostages suffering and that of their kin back home. Media should consider taking responsibility of free press. This includes ability to distinguish between reporting of new developments and over dwelling on a single or multiple negative conditions especially in hostage situations (Hermann and Hermann, 1998).

                                     Dangerous Speculations

                 In the 1980’s, militia were kidnapping Westerners in Lebanon. A hostage, Father Jenco was released in July 1986 from his captivity by the militia. Other hostages held with him were made to make videos for Father Jenco to carry with. One of them, David Jacobsen, condoled William F Buckley’s wife and kid. Buckley had passed away in captivity.13, a TV station, uncovered that Buckley was a bachelor. The TV station went on to speculate that Jacobsen intended to convey a message in code. This landed Jacobsen in a lot of trouble as he was still in captivity. He was placed in solitary confinement and treated inhumanly for the rest of his captivity (Martin & Walcott, 1988).In this case the media could have involved security agencies before airing the hostage videos to avoid such occurrences.

                                     Glorifying Terrorists

               The media is not supposed to glorify terrorists. Patricia Hearst was a hostage of a small terrorist cell, Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The terrorists demanded that their messages be delivered entirely by the media; the media obliged. As a result, the case was magnified greatly.SLA received worldwide publicity. The most unfortunate aspect of this incident was that media transformed a small and unknown SLA to a feared and internationally recognized SLA. This brought about insurmountable pressure to security agencies globally (Marilyn & Sally, 1974).

                                    The Public Right to Know

                            When media coverage is restricted, it limits access to certain information by the public. The public is mostly interested in terror activities for chiefly the purpose of sensationality. John Sullivan, for instance, suggested the banning of terrorist interviews in Northern Ireland. Arguments that the public needs to understand terrorists’ point of view is absurd. Safety of the general population surpasses anyone’s ‘need to know’.

                                Dissemination of Information

                                It is clear that it is all not black and white for information on terror. The Department of Homeland Security should put up guidelines to guide the media on how to handle information. As for the media houses, they ought to step up and be more careful with what they air.


There is need to reconsider sensationalist coverage of acts of terror as it provides a platform for terrorist cells to spread fear and propaganda. This brings about more harm than good in the world. Guidelines should be set to control reporting of terrorism by the media.


Bell,J.B.(1978). Terrorist scripts and live-action spectaculars [Review of the book Columbia journalism]. (pp.49).

Hermann, M.G., &Hermann, C.F. (1998). Hostage taking ,the Presidency, and stress. In Walter Reich (Ed.), Origins of terrorism: psychologies, idiologies, theologies, state of mind (pp.211-229).Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Centre Press.

Laqueur,W.(1987).The age of terrorism. Boston,MA:Little Brown & Co.

Martin,D.C.,& Walcott,J.(1988).Best laid Plans:The inside story of Americans war against terrorism.New York,NY:Harper & Row.

Marilyn,B., & Sally,B.(1974).Exclusive!The inside Story of Patricia Hearst and the SLA.New York,NY:Macmillan.

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