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Following the horrifying events of September 11th, 2001, the US government began a wide spread war on terror under the directions of the then US president George W. Bush (Cettl 122).
The days and weeks that followed saw the American public receive large amounts of information constantly broadcasted through the mass media on the threat of terrorism and the need to eradicate terrorists worldwide. To achieve this, the US government increased resources spent on intelligence surveillance and doubled efforts to find and eliminate potential terrorists and bringing their activities to an end permanently.
The result of this campaign against terror led the majority of the American public to believe that their nation was under attack and the major channel that had been utilized in building this perception was the media (Jo, Shim and Jung 65). It has been suggested that the constant visualization of images of war through the mass media led to the variation in public perception towards war.
This conclusion was drawn after a survey was carried out in the US, UK, and South Korea following the US invasion of Iraq, aimed at establishing the public opinion towards war.
To establish this, the researcher’s measured the degree of justification, fairness, necessity, degree of right or wrong, positive or negative perception, the degree to which they felt the war was a success or failure (Jo, Shim and Jung 64). Following the results of this study and the statement that constant transmission of war images on mass media was used to scare the American public (Cettl 122), this paper seeks to establish and justify this claim.
In the film Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore claims that media can be used as a tool for spreading propaganda.
The argument in Support of Statement
As stated in the thesis statement, the media can be used to spread propaganda and begin a war. As the discussion seeks to justify this, it is important to mention possible motives that may have provided reasons that led to the initiation of this campaign by the administration. In the film, it is mentioned that the Bush family had business links with the Bin Laden family and in fact, on the day of the September 11th attacks were holding meetings with members of this family (Cettl 122).
These allegations have not been denied publicly and therefore appear justified. If this is the case, then it is likely that the campaign that followed these events was not a war against terror but a war to protect business interests. Waging this war required the public opinion to be changed and among the ways of achieving this was to get the American public to believe their nation was under attack.
According to Cettl, over the year’s one effective means that has been utilized by the American film industry to lure viewers is the presentation of films depicting various events such as war and terrorism. This was evident during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and more recently in films depicting terrorism (3).
The large audience that these films attract would posit that they play a significant role in molding the perception of the viewer about the activities and definition of terrorism and terrorists. This position implies that over the years, American film has played a role in shaping the perception of the public on issues affecting the country.
In addition to the above fact, it has also been reported that terrorists often choreograph attacks to attract the attention of the media and the general public (Surette, Hansen and Noble 360). It has been established that many terrorists desire varying degrees of media attention and the acts undertaken often aim to garner as much media attention to spread the message to the largest audience possible.
This is probably the reason why most terrorist acts target major cities or events around the world. As stated by Surette et al., “The news plays a prominent role in linking up to the terrorist with his victim, his enemy and the public at large… ” (360). In addition to this, it has also been noted that television is better suited for media-oriented terrorism as opposed to print media.
This fact is best portrayed by the Oklahoma City Bomber in the year 1995, who selected to bomb the Murray Federal Building. Among other reasons for this act the scene selected was thought to have plenty of wide open spaces that the perpetrator felt would allow for the best possible news and photo footage (Surette et al. 361).
Another indication in support of this stems from the fact that there has been an increase in terrorist attacks involving journalists, which more often than not will increase the media coverage (Surette et al. 367). These further signify the role of media in the activities of terrorists.
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According to Richards, terrorists and professional publicists share a lot in common and dominate news around the world (170). It has been suggested that the development of values-based public communications system may be useful in bringing media oriented terrorism to a halt (Richards 176).
This is because the main reason these events are aired on the media is viewer interest, and the media houses reliance on ratings. Turning this concept into a reality promises to be a monumental task given that this infringes on the rights of the individual. However, given that terrorist activities have caused major loss of life all over the world, measures to need to be taken to make them less alluring to disadvantaged groups.
In this paper, the role of media in terrorism was discussed. It was established that it is likely that the media was used to scare the American public into waging war against terror. Further, it was established that media attention is essential for terrorist activity and that it is important to consider means to prevent terrorists from hijacking the media and stop the senseless loss of life.
Cettl, R. Terrorism in American Cinema: An Analytical Filmography, 1960 – 2008. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc Publishers, 2009.
Jo, Samsup, Sung Wook Shim and Jaemin Jung. “Propaganda or Public Relations Campaign? International Communication on the War against Iraq.” Public Relations Review 34 (2008): 63-65.
Richards, B. “Terrorism and Public Relations.” Public Relations Review 30 (2003): 169-176.
Surette, Ray, Kelly Hansen and Greg Noble. “Measuring Media Oriented Terrorism.” Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2009): 360-370.