Comparative analysis of media coverage of terrorist acts across different countries

Terrorism equals to a certain extent to publicity. As Brian Jenkins has vehemently put it, terrorism is like a stage. And in this logic, the media cover a crucial role in the terrorism script. If terrorism is meant to instill terror and bring about psychological warfare, it is clear that terrorists think of the media in a strategic way. In search of sensationalism, graphic imagery and extensive live, close up coverage of gruesome acts of violence might bring higher ratings, but might also amplify and “blow out of proportion” the attack, the perpetrators’ cause, and public fear over future attacks. Thus, how the media respond to acts of terrorism instants after “the bomb goes off” becomes paramount for both the government and the very own terrorist organization. And finding a balance between reporting the news in a satisfactory way avoiding becoming the tools of terrorism is an equally important mission for the country’s media outlets.

Unlike countries like Israel, most European/Western countries are to learn how to properly report and engage in the aftermath of terrorist attacks (both in the short and long term). Without any presumptuousness, we would like students to focus on specific media outlets in countries that have experienced recent terrorist attacks. We ask students to focus on the media’s rhetoric (factual, inflammatory, conciliatory, apologetic...), the type of coverage they opted for (live updates, # of interviews, # and types of footage, # of days they covered the violent act), and the following up media attention dedicated to the topic of terrorism (# of TV shows, talk shows, # of times or instances of re-tweets, # instances in social media like Facebook). After providing an assessment, we ask students to provide guidance and advice as to how media should cover acts of terrorism, as if the students were journalists or editors.

In addition to the information on how to write policy papers, here are a few suggestions on what to focus in this scenario:

  1. Definition: Coverage / Terrorism
  2. Background: Brief history of terrorism in the country in question and an assessment of the media outlet (political orientation, tone)
  3. Organization’s main interest/objective: depending on the selected role, identify your organization’s main objective
  4. Pre-existing policies: what has been done to address how media respond to terrorist attacks? Does the government or the media outlet in question already have a pre-determined policy? How did the media respond to the attack?

 ©Michele Groppi, all rights reserved.