Monday, October 1, 2007

Terror Vision: Is the news a medium for terrorist propaganda?

Osama bin Laden fired off warnings and threats in a new video tape released a few days before 9/11; the first time the al-Quaeda leader has appeared in public for more than a year. Much of the media hype that followed the release focused on bin Laden’s newly dyed beard and how much younger it made him look. But a much larger debate surrounds the release of al-Qaeda videos.

Since September 11, 2001the media have aired terrorist videos (example of video on right). But should networks give terrorists access to massive audiences, especially since it plays right into the terrorist strategy of using violence to gain media access.

Taking most of the heat for broadcasting terrorist messages is the Middle Eastern news network al-Jazeera. If a video by an Islamic fundamentalist is aired, chances are al-Jazeera had the video first before passing it on to the other world news organizations. Dorrance Smith of the Wall Street Journal said there is a strong relationship between terrorists and the al-Jazeera.

The Bush administration has accused the channel for being inaccurate and having a biased, anti-US slant. Another reason for the US government’s stance against Al-Jazeera is the fact the network has the ears of millions in the Arab world who are already critical of US policy in the Middle East.
Al-Jazeera defended the practice of broa
dcasting bin Laden videos by saying that any news network would jump at the chance to air the tapes. A spokesman for the Middle Eastern network correctly states that “We don’t believe anyone can argue about the newsworthiness of Osama bin Laden’s latest recording.”

American media networks on the other hand viewed airing bin Laden videos as unpatriotic. Shortly after the September 11 attacks ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC announced they would not air live broadcasts from bin Laden. Instead the networks aired edited messages from the video.
But giving the al-Qaeda leader any air time proved controversial. The White H
ouse warned the networks not to air messages from bin Laden’s videos because “At best, Osama bin Lden’s messages are propaganda calling on people to kill Americans, at worst he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks,” according to Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman.
The Whit
e House and other media critics accuse the networks of being a tool for the terrorists to spread jihadist ideologies.(Zarqawi's al-Qaeda recruitment photo left) Gaining publicity is central to the terrorist strategy. A movement cannot gain momentum if no one hears about it, and an enemy cannot be defeated if it does not feel afraid. By broadcasting radical messages the speaker can threaten millions of people. Giving terrorists air time is an incentive for them to commit more acts of violence because they know people will pay attention. According to critics, the media is being used for propaganda.

However all politicians, businesses, movie stars or anyone with any kind of personal interest use the media every day to get a message out to the public. As news critic Howard Kurtz points out, reporting what people say is part of any news organization’s job.

“When CNN and other cable networks provide live coverage of President Bush’s speeches, Ari Fleischers’ briefings, and Donald Rumsfeld’s news conferences, they are obviously given them a forum to get out the American message,” Kurtz said. “I’m not saying that terrorists deserve or should have an equal platform, but if the networks stopped airing the propaganda from all sides, there wouldn’t be very much left on the air.” (Photo of Bush news conference right)

Terrorist activity is important, and people like Osamba bin Laden are influential in shaping the Middle East. As the spokesman for al-Jazeera stated earlier, there is no arguing the newsworthiness of bin Laden. There is also no arguing the President's Middle East policy and his speeches on that policy. Therefore the "propagandist messages" should still be broadcasted because they are essential to understanding the issues.

But broadcasting just a message alone is not news. When t
he president calls someone “evil” or announces a decision to go to war, journalist should be asking why instead of just taking the message at face value.

Many in the media viewed any sort of objectivity in the wake of 9/11 as unpatriotic. A good example is Judith Miller and her reporting on weapons of mass destruction. She was criticized for reporting only what the administration told her about the weapons in Iraq despite contradictory intelligence.
Everyone using the media will give a slanted story; the duty of the media is to expose the holes in the story.

An article by Jane Kirtley in the American Journalism Review commented on the media’s reaction to Bush’s request not to air bin Laden videos.
“So the networks have made the “patriotic” decision. As a statement from Fox News Channel put it, they won’t allow themselves to be used as tools of propaganda for those ‘who want to destroy American and endanger the lives of its citizens.’ They will use their journalistic judgment to d
ecide what they will air. Let’s hope they will apply that judgment just as rigorously to the material they receive from US government sources.” (US Marine recruitment picture left)

The bottom line: any message meant to sway public opinion must be reported objectively and held up to scrutiny if it is to be considered news, otherwise it’s just propaganda.


MCW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MCW said...

You did a good job of equally presenting the positive and negative aspects of airing al-Queda's video tape on television. You also included different perspectives of government officials, professional journalists and news reporters, which is excellent.

I agree with you that any message reported on TV must be “reported objectively...if it is to be considered news.” It is the responsibly of the press to accurately report the opinions of al-Queda, but giving the radical group air time on television will also allow it to gain publicity and gather support inside or outside the Unite States. In this way, the press facilitates acts of violence and terrorism. Perhaps it is a paradox journalists face in today's society.

Overall, this was a well-written essay. However, the paragraphs are relatively short and are mostly about the viewpoints of others. Your essay will be more engaging if readers can hear more of your own voice.

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