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Floral tributes at London Bridge after the attack in June 2017. Courtesy of Matt Brown / Wikimedia Commons

Terrorism and the Mass Media

Jessica White
Occasional Papers, 12 May 2020
Terrorism and Conflict, UK, Domestic Security, Terrorism
Media coverage of terrorism amplifies its effects. The negative consequences of any such coverage can be mitigated by responsible and ethical reporting practices.

Watch launch event with Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu and others

Terrorism is commonly defined as a form of politically motivated violence and intimidation, which uses communication strategies to amplify its intended effect of causing terror. It employs a wide range of platforms, including so-called ‘traditional’ news media such as newspapers and television, as tools. However, the role of the mass media in the advancement of terrorism’s objectives is controversial, even within academic literature, as it is difficult to draw direct lines of causation due to the diversity of factors contributing to terrorism and the process of radicalisation. This paper synthesises the existing literature to explore what the theory says about the role of the media in relation to three questions: 

  • Does traditional mass media influence the threat of terrorism by encouraging or discouraging radicalisation, recruitment and mobilisation to violence? 
  • Does traditional mass media amplify or suppress the social and psychological effects of terrorism? For example, does it amplify levels of public fear or impact social cohesion by damaging community ties? 
  • Does the traditional mass media in the UK inadvertently advance terrorist objectives? 

BANNER IMAGE: Courtesy of Matt Brown / Wikimedia Commons.

To watch the paper's launch event, click here.

Dr Jessica White
Research Fellow

Dr Jessica White is a Research Fellow in RUSI’s Terrorism and Conflict group. Her expertise encompasses counter-terrorism and preventing... read more

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