The Psychological Implications of Media-Covered Terrorism

by Brian Michael Jenkins

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Abstract

An expanded version of the author's presentation before an international seminar on Terrorism and the Mass Media held in Sicily, April 1981. In our age of mass communications, the role of the news media cannot be separated from the acts of terrorism. By carrying out inherently dramatic, deliberately shocking acts of violence, terrorists hope to attract attention to their causes and project themselves as forces to be reckoned with. The amount of terrorist violence and murder is trivial when measured against the world volume of violence and murder, but this is not apparent from the proportional weight given to terrorism in the media. Perhaps the greatest danger posed by terrorism and its reportage is that the resulting atmosphere of alarm and danger will provoke reactions that imperil democracy--many may view the very laws which guarantee individual liberties as impediments to eradicating terrorism. The media have a difficult middle road to follow.

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