Terrorism is based on symbolic strategy to communicate connotative meanings by conveying the message to different segments of society and government that terrorists are powerful and dangerous. In the present world, terrorism and media are interrelated.
After the recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, the governments, people, security agencies and media of their countries became one to fight against the menace of terrorism. Similarly, unity was seen in the US after the 9/11 tragedy.
However, in these cases, while, acting sensibly, their media played a key role in discouraging terrorism in every possible way.
In case of Pakistan, media, especially TV channels always behave irresponsibly. Let us take the example of the recent terror attack at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, which killed at least 72 people, including 29 children and injured more than 300 persons. Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is being supported by India, and which was behind several terror attacks inside Pakistan also claimed responsibility for this major assault. To divert the attention, its faction Jamaatul Ahrar accepted responsibility for this ferocious attack.
One the one hand, media anchors and analysts openly stated that terrorists are not invincible, and that they can be eliminated through power of the state, coupled with collective efforts of various entities of the country, while on the other, various TV channels were repeatedly displaying the horrible scenes of blood, dead bodies, the injured persons including women and children who were targeted by the terrorists at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. It seemed that unintentionally, they were glorifying the cause of terrorism, besides adding fuel to the fire in relation to those families which were affected by the mayhem. Creating panic among the general masses, such an insensible act also distorted country’s image.
Pakistan is passing through exceptionally unusual circumstances and the situation after the Peshawar school attack warranted bold decisions to deal the menace of terrorism, particularly the threat of the TTP and its banned affiliated groups. In this regard, encouraged by the public opinion, taking note of the delicate moment, on January 2, 2015, political and military leaders agreed on a draft of legislative measures which paved the way for establishment of special military trial courts. It was unanimously agreed that the 20 points enunciated in the All Parties Conference (APC) Resolution of December 24, 2014 shall be acted upon expeditiously—the bill as 22nd (Constitutional) Amendment was enforced soon after its approval by parliament. Now, several terrorists have been hanged.
Unfortunately, the glorification of terrorists by some irresponsible media houses helps in motivating the innocent youth. They are referred to as militants or extremists instead of terrorists. These media houses give time and space to those terrorists by telecasting their messages like claiming of responsibility for a terror attack, exaggeration of the event etc. in the print and electronic media—indirectly appease them.
Notably, after the 20-point National Action Plan, the distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban was removed. But electronic TV channels have given undue space to the extremist people like Maulana Abdul Aziz (Lal Masjid). Thus, the media has been playing a significantly more lethal role than the automatic weapons in the hands of these terrorists in winning the hearts and minds of our misguided youth.
Let us take the instance of the Karachi Airport operation against the terrorists. In this respect, the electronic media recklessly failed to demonstrate maturity in live coverage of the operation. Certain information regarding movement of our forces, supervision of operation by a particular tier of command, reports submitted to Army’s high command etc. were required to be strongly censored, as the same information was also made available to the terrorists through live coverage.
Nevertheless, as regards Pakistan, media reports must be properly monitored and strongly censored prior to broadcast. Media must follow a code of conduct and journalistic ethics, as envisaged by the profession of journalism and in accordance with the national interests.
This mechanism, related to the war against terrorism is essential for the Pakistani media, especially for the TV channels. Media must project that state is more powerful than the misled bands of terrorist outfits. In this context, the electronic media should not buy the panic-ridden messages of the terrorists, and it should indicate that terrorists are weak; therefore, they undertake heinous missions stealthily. Electronic Media must give very short coverage to the terrorism-related event and must not repeat the incident again and again. Media must exploit vulnerabilities of terrorists.
Particularly, our media must be fully controlled in order to conduct successful counter-terror operations, and should be used as a support element of the state. It should not be allowed to conduct selective coverage of events such as showing mutilated bodies, severely injured people, destruction of property and brutally smashed scenes of surrounding. Live coverage of operation should not be permitted.
Besides, in crisis situation, lives are at risk. In this connection, media should not disclose names of victims, vital locations, security forces etc. It should maintain sense of hope among domestic audience, especially when the operation against terrorists is still going on. It is better that during counter-terrorism operations, media must be fully controlled and kept out. This will help all tiers of command to achieve their objectives.
Now, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have almost defeated the terrorists, particularly of the TTP through the military operation Zarb-e-Azb which needs support of the nation, especially of the media which must encourage our armed forces against these zealots.
And Media anchors and commentators must point out that Islam considers killing one innocent person equal to murdering the entire humanity, while Jihad is a sacred obligation, but its real spirit needs to be understood clearly, as killing innocent women and children is not Jihad.
It is now time for our media to stop glorifying terrorism for advancing their business interest. While acting sensibly, media must know that in this war against terrorism, there is no other side. There is only one side and that is our side.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations