Discussion & Responses: Censoring the Media

Discussion & Responses: Censoring the Media

Recent history, specifically the past decade, has provided plenty of examples of the mutually beneficial relationship between terrorist organizations and the media. Critics of this symbiotic relationship argue that government restrictions on the media are necessary in the fight against terrorism.

Based on this concept, comment in your initial post whether or not you feel that government leaders should be allowed to impose censorship on the media with regard to their coverage of terrorism. The two replies to other posts can either be a response to a question about your analysis or to the classmate whose work you reviewed.

To complete this assignment, review the Discussion Rubric document.

PDF: The Media as an Enabler for Acts of Terrorism
This article examines the relationship between terrorism and the media and asserts that the media does indeed function as an enabler for terrorism.

Article: Terrorism, the Media, and the Government: Perspectives, Trends, and Options for Policymakers
This Congressional Research Service Report responds to a range of inquiries received by the Congressional Research Service on the nature of the relationship of terrorist initiatives, publicity, and governments.
As you read these reports, consider the following questions:

What role does the media play in promoting acts of terrorism?
How can the media responsibly report on acts of terrorism without contributing to the spread of violent extremism?

The relationship between terrorism and the media is often referred to as symbiotic in that this unwitting relationship often benefits both parties. During this module, we will explore this concept in order to better understand the relationship that exists between terrorism and the media and how we may use that understanding to develop mitigation strategies to counter it.

One of the main reasons for this symbiosis is that the success of both terrorism and the media are interdependent to some extent. Terrorism requires public awareness in order to promote and spread its ideological views. Beheading a journalist in the middle of nowhere without any witnesses in an effort to promote a political agenda does not spread fear amongst a population. However, doing so during a primetime media broadcast is an extremely powerful and motivating tactic for the terrorist group. The bottom line is that terrorism, regardless of its motivations and ideologies, requires an audience in order to be effective. The media provides that audience in a very efficient way.

As mentioned above, the terrorism/media relationship is mutually beneficial. The media has just as much to gain from acts of terrorism. Given their desire to instill fear, promote change, and raise awareness for a specific ideological point of view, acts of terrorism are typically very dramatic and attract a lot of attention. The business of mass media is all about viewership and ratings. The more people tune in to watch, the more the media profits from the event. There is perhaps no better draw to the media than an act of terrorism. There has always been a psychological connection between human beings and violence and traumatic events. The media fully understands this connection and exploits it to its fullest. There is a direct correlation between the drama and violence created through an act of terrorism, the amount of viewers drawn to a media outlet, and the profits made by the media moguls who produce it.

The creation of cable news networks, like CNN in the early 1980s, followed by the advent of the so called “24-hour news cycle” has only served to perpetuate and exacerbated this relationship. Mainstream news media is now required to produce newsworthy material 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The days of the nightly news broadcast of the day’s significant factual events is long gone. This increased requirement for numerous hours of so-called “newsworthy” material plays right into the hand of terrorism. As more and more people become exposed to violent activity through the media, they become in a sense immune to its effects and therefore require even more extreme and dramatic programming in order to satisfy their psychological need. This perpetuates the spread of violence and encourages the media to seek out more horrific events to broadcast as well as inspires terrorists to up their game to create more dramatic and violent acts to attract the attention of the media and its viewers.

There are essentially four primary ways in which terrorism benefits from its use of the media to include attention and awareness, recognition, sympathy, and legitimacy.

Attention and Awareness

The first, increased attention and awareness, is how fear is spread. This is a significant benefit of using the media for terrorists. The immersion of the public into every terrorist act makes them keenly aware of their own vulnerability. Every time a terrorist attack takes place on a bus, in a café, or in a police station, from anywhere on earth, terrorists send a clear message that they can strike anywhere and at any time. This obviously has a psychological impact on the population and can leave the population psychologically vulnerable. This vulnerability can have a snowball effect, causing fear to spread throughout the entire country. Fear caused the United States to enact the Patriot Act; fear also caused Spain to withdraw from Iraq. As mentioned above, the more violent and dramatic the violence is, the more the local population grows accustomed and essentially desensitized to it, resulting in the need for even more dramatic and violent events. September 11, 2001 was an escalation by al-Qaeda after lesser attacks occurred, including the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the simultaneous U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. It can be reasoned that media coverage can actually cause an increase in frequency and severity of attacks.


Perhaps just as important as spreading fear is why the terrorists are spreading the fear in the first place. The use of mainstream media to promote and essentially market the group’s ideology is crucial to their efforts. Terrorism is solely a tactic that an individual or group uses to promote and further some sort of political, social, religious, or ideological goal, getting people to understand that the act is only a means to the end. Confusing means and ends is detrimental to the fight against terrorism. We must understand that the goal is not only important but is paramount in countering terrorism. It is not enough for people to see the act of terrorism; they must understand why the act was conducted in the first place. Without that, the act was just a random act of violence. Making the Spanish people aware of why a train blew up in Madrid let them know that they could stop these attacks simply by pressuring their government to withdraw from Iraq. This message of why the attack took place was more important than creating fear from the attack. People understood they could stop the terrorists by forcing their government’s hand. That is, the people become the mechanism of terrorists’ objective accomplishment. What makes this even more dubious is that the media typically reports on this aspect of the story without terrorist prodding. This backstory makes for interesting journalism yet gives the terrorists a stage from which to spread their message.


Terrorism is also used to gain support for a cause. These groups need support to exist. From recruitment to monetary and logistical support, fulfilling these requirements becomes much easier if like-minded individuals are found. Spreading the message through media attention is crucial to finding those people. The use of the media to gain sympathy helps secure that support. Terrorism is supported by active and passive supporters, and the media facilitates introduction to both. Passive supporters may send money or food, while active supporters may help train, provide transportation or safe haven, or even participate in the attacks. The media connects potential supporters with the terrorists.


Finally, media coverage of a terrorist attack not only raises awareness for the cause but also serves to legitimize the terrorist group that conducted the attack. This legitimacy is equally important to spreading or advancing the cause. It is through this legitimacy that a terrorist group is able to attract new recruits, raise money, and garner political power. Groups like Sinn Féin in Ireland, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Hamas in the Middle East, all started out as terrorist groups and through their media exploits are now considered legitimate political organizations within their respective communities. While many consider these groups to still be terrorists, they have been deemed to some extent “legitimate” in the eyes of the international community. This legitimacy also provided terrorist groups the means to attract state support. Terrorists have often had a difficult time finding state support; however legitimate groups have found it much easier to come by. The media facilitates this legitimization.

Peer post one

Hello Class,

I do believe government leaders should be allowed to impose censorship on the media with regard to their coverage of terrorism however, it is a hard thing to do when there are constitutional rights involved. Many individuals have called on Congress to pass laws regulating online content promoting terrorism or violence. In order for them to pass those laws, Congress will have to work around the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court has observed, while the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, it does not protect violence. A major issue when it comes to the First Amendment is the protections when it comes to foreign nationals posting online content from abroad.

If government leaders were to impose censorship, terrorist organizations will slowly dwindle. Terrorist groups rely on the media for recruitment and support for their cause, take away from them and there will be a smaller and less organized group. I feel like a censorship can also help the cause in fighting domestic terrorism. Terrorist groups recruit individuals throughout different countries. Some domestic terrorism attacks we have had in the US were individuals who claimed loyalty to a terrorist organization, in which they were recruited into. Censorship is an easy way to cut the main supply line off terrorist organizations however, working around the First Amendment makes it hard to even know where to begin.

Killion, V. L. (2019, May 6). Terrorism, Violent Extremism, and the Internet: Free Speech Considerations. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/R45713.pdf.

Peer post 2

Censorship of the media is not possible due to the First Amendment. What the country needs to work on is cooperation between the government and the media. The media should be willing to hold off on a report or not release certain information that the government reasonably requests. I think most of the members of the media will spout all types of Constitutional protections when asked to perform this task. I think their main motivation is profits, not getting the story to the public. The more sensational the headline, the audience is increased, the more profits are generated from advertising. A 2018 survey about news sources (print, online, radio, and television) concluded that only forty percent of Americans trust the news. (Silber, 2018) If the media is not generally trusted, is it critical for their reporting to be instantly broadcast? Social media and internet providers are allowed to regulate the content that is generated on their platforms and they can impose some type of self-censorship. While the livestream of a beheading may not be able to be stopped, due to not knowing about it beforehand, the rebroadcasting of it can certainly be curtailed. Terrorists rely on the media to inform the world of their cause and instill fear, without the media there probably would not be as many terror attacks.

Some believe that if the media is censored in relation to terrorism that it will creep into other areas. This is just not true as the First Amendment forbids it. The is a difference between civil insurrection and terrorism. While the media may respond and begin reporting on an incident when it is determined that it is a terror incident, the media should stand down and take direction from the government on what to report. This does not mean that it can never be reported, its just delayed, so the government, not the terrorists, can take advantage of information. In April 1983, after the U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, it was reported by the media that the U.S. had intercepted communications between Iran and Syria, this undermined U.S. efforts to capture terrorist leaders and removed a source of information for future attacks. In October 1983 the U.S. Marine Barracks was bombed, supposedly from the same terrorists. It is undetermined if that news report caused the communications between Syria and Iran to cease, but in any case, it did not help. (Graham, 1985, pp. 9-10) When it comes to defending the country against terrorism it is not the concern for every citizen to have the same information the government has, therefore, transparency between the government, media, and its citizens is not required. The media, in my opinion, should cooperate with the government for terrorism related issues, not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. It may garner the trust of the public that they are currently lacking.


Graham, K. (1985, December 6). Terrorism and the Media. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp88b00443r001804400036-9.

Silber, T. (2018, October 4). The Wall Street Journal Tops A New Index of Most Trustworthy Media Brands. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonysilber/2018/10/03/the-wall-street-journal-tops-a-new-index-of-most-trustworthy-media-brands/#4c52f88e28b5.




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Discussion and Responses
Censoring the Media
Government needs to be allowed to impose various forms of censorship on the media when it comes to covering terrorist activities and terrorism. The assertion is based on the fact that it has been proven that terrorist groups and terrorism benefits a great deal from coverage of some of the activities they perpetrate.

(603 words)

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