Ever since 9/11 it seems an important and significant amount of media attention has been solely reserved for that most indefinable of terms, 'terrorism'. With no set definition existing within the parameters of law, terrorism is a buzzword associated with criminality of the worst kind. At it's core, are the principles of fear, victimisation and violence and they are all usually interwoven with a particular raison d'être.
Terrorism and the media have a symbiotic relationship, without attention a terrorist act remains confined to it's immediate victims. However, with the oxygen of publicity from the media and with intention of sating public demand for information and sales, this coverage can actually result in effective propaganda for the perpetrators of such acts.
A few months ago, I spent time with radical Islamist Anjem Choudary whilst making a short documentary attempting to highlight disparity between moderate and radical Islam. Anjem Choudary is the ex-leader of Al-Muhajiroun, (a now proscribed group) which organised anti-western demonstrations and believes the world should be united under Sharia law.
The thing that struck me most whilst spending time with Anjem Choudary was his willingness to utilise western mass media as a form of canvassing his extremist views and the ease at which he could do it. He informed me of the time back in 2010 when he and Islam4UK (another proscribed group for its extremist connections) threatened to march coffins through Wotton Bassett. The response to this was public condemnation from then Prime Minister Gordon Brown the very next day and an inevitable outcry and column inches from both national and international media.
It's important to note that any form of peaceful protest no matter how grotesque it's purpose, wouldn't and shouldn't be deemed a 'terrorist' act. However, with Anjem Choudary's alleged terrorist connections it doesn't stretch the imagination too far to deduce that others would see the benefit of utilising a hyperbolic and sensationalist media in order to spread their cause and remain relevant.
Ayman Al-Zawahri, leader of Al Qaeda, is quoted as saying, "Al Qaeda is in battle and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media". The idea that terrorists with fundamental Islamic views are nuanced enough to use modern media, which they so detest as a tool for their own ends is a topic I haven't heard discussed. Of course the old adage of 'all publicity is good publicity' is a concept that has been around for generations but the idea of specifically targeting our own means of communication and information is a decidedly new phenomenon.
The Islamic State, for example, has arguably been pioneering this form of media manipulation. Testing what it seems to be a simple paradigm, the more depraved an act committed the more attention you will receive. This plays into the hands of IS, with their intended promotion of fear and insecurity in your own home despite being half a world away which is exacerbated by a sensationalist self perpetuating media.
I believe in freedom of the press and the ability to convey any story, however not at the loss of objectivity. A willingness to make terrorism a focal point from western media in theory is fine, but to sensationalise and promulgate fear for sales figures or page views is of direct benefit to those committing the acts of terrorism.
IS in particular should be viewed as being successful in achieving their goals at the moment and until something different and perhaps drastic is done, the impetus from them will be too continue. Allow them oxygen of publicity and they will continue to thrive, cut if off and they may just not survive.