Tackling terrorism through media 

terrorismBy S. M. Hali

The scourge of terrorism that Pakistan is facing has morphed into a terrible monster, which besides being deadly, has acquired the use of sophisticated tools of communication including social media. This brand of terrorism is perpetrated by a group, which is not only educated and a far cry from the rag tag militia of yester years but also adept at the art of propaganda, misinformation and attempting to sway adverse public opinion in its favour. It is also capable of creating the effects of shock and awe in the minds of the people that it is capable of meting out great destruction with impunity.

This form of terrorism is based on symbolic strategy to communicate connotative meanings and convey a message to different segments of society and administrative echelons that terrorists are powerfully dangerous, deadly and treacherous. Hence, the terrorists select sensitive targets like women and children, lone bread earners of family, Police officials, Judges and others representing LEAs and Security Forces etc. The terror mongers are bent upon creating an image themselves being deadlier than they are and larger than life so that the common man may be scared into accepting their threats and succumb to their demands.

The fact is that the terrorists are not invincible and that they can be eliminated through power of the state. Undoubtedly, the terrorist groups are being supported by vested interests. They have been trained by highly trained assassins, armed with lethal weapons and launched to wreak havoc. They forget that the state is more powerful than the misled bands of terrorist outfits and can crush them with brute force. The only reason why the state has not brought on its entire might is because it wants to avoid collateral damage of huge proportion and also because it wanted to give dialogue a chance before unleashing the forces of fury.

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Pakistani media has a huge responsibility on its shoulders. Firstly, it should avoid creating panic by portraying the terrorists to be more powerful than they are like to propagate themselves as. The people of Pakistan are in a fragile state of mind. Realism in media reporting is objective but it should not also frighten the people out of their wits. Media can provide entertainment to keep the minds of the people away from the horrors of destruction and carnage and get a respite. Footage of mutilated bodies, visuals of the horrors of destruction and reports on terror attacks should be avoided in depicting the events in more horrifying manner than actual.

Terrorists are prone to conduct their heinous attacks stealthily because they lack the strength of launching frontal attacks.  Media must exploit their vulnerabilities by projecting their true worth.

It is equally important for the media to portray that the people of Pakistan have put their faith in the government of Pakistan and its armed forces to crush the terrorists. The counter terror operations are in fact being held with complete unity in thought and execution between the civil and military. Any malicious suggestions to the contrary must cease forthwith.

The media is bent upon presenting live coverage of operations and events as they unfold. This must be discouraged although media may be taken into confidence regarding ongoing operations but should desist from visually reporting the process. They may inadvertently disclose sensitive information pertaining to the secrecy or sensitivity of the military maneuvers and thus compromise the entire operations resulting in failure or loss of precious lives.

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Simultaneously, terrorist leaders should be deprived of media space. As mentioned earlier, we are dealing with a treacherous enemy, which is fully cognizant of the effects that can be created through social and mass media. The terror mongers attempt to earn the sympathy of the masses and thus bear undue pressure on the government and security forces. We saw a glimpse of it during the Lal Masjid operation, how the tables were turned on the government itself, because the media was relaying the interviews of the terror leaders live. Being loquacious and masters of oratory, they managed to twist public opinion favourably for themselves. The same people, who were baying for the blood of the miscreants, were now shedding tears for them and demanding cessation of force.

Irresponsible media coverage creates misperceptions and demoralizes own forces. The soldiers fighting the terrorists, risking their lives, when exposed to lopsided coverage, where the terrorists are either eulogized or presented in a favourable light, it may confuse the defenders of Pakistan. Moreover depicting own losses in a ghastly or grossly exaggerated manner will certainly demoralize the fighting force giving its best to defeat the enemy.

Media must show maturity and understanding of sensitive nature of counter terrorism operations. This entails conducting proper training of media reporters and anchors which must be ensured by media houses. ISPR can perhaps chip in and provide crash courses on covering conflicts in an objective manner, which does not provide an unnecessary and unfair advantage to the adversary. An equally essential component of media training is self protection. Media must be trained from avoiding collateral damage for itself and end up being a casualty and mere statistics of war. Media owners should issue protective gear to the media team covering the military operations. Specialized equipment, including helmets and bullet proof jackets may be slightly expensive but not more expensive than precious human lives.

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There should be an effective media controlling body to monitor and direct the media to engage in media coverage of sensitive installations such as airports, air bases and other security outfits as well as during actual conflict. Media can also support the cause of mitigating the effects of the propaganda by the terror mongers who distort religion to support their heinous aims. Media can bring on highly qualified and pragmatic religious leaders, thinkers and opinion builders, who can nail the lie of the terrorists and show the actual context of the Qurànic verses so that the odious efforts of the terrorists are deprived of the tool they have been using.