By Humaira Masihudding & Mujtaba Quadri
Once again terrorists have struck this time simultaneously in Karachi and Lahore (25th January 2011). And once again our media went into a frenzy covering the mayhem, destruction, the desperate expressions on the faces of the bystanders and the victims themselves being wheeled into emergency rooms, this coverage continued till the next day. One cannot even begin to imagine the jubilation and celebration that must have taken place at the same time in the cells of the sponsoring terrorist outfit. The high fives, the full throated extremist slogans, the smug smiles and the twinkling of the hatred filled eyes. This reaction of the cheering terrorists is made possible wittingly or unwittingly by none other than the media. But what baffles the mind is that it’s been years and years since we have as a society been targets of terrorist assaults and yet have been unable to formulate a regulated and sound policy regarding the coverage of these terrorist attacks. But first in order to do so we need to have a 101 level understanding of the phenomena itself. We must understand that the terrorists work within the framework of carefully thought out and planned strategy. They employ aggression selectively and precisely to achieve the purpose of creating a mega pool of citizens crippled with fear (this would be a stepping stone for their long-term agendas). Contrary to popular thought terrorists apply aggression not emotionally but instrumentally, it is employed after careful planning to gain the maximum amount of mileage but the most important aspect to understand here is the strategic intent of the terrorists. According to Dr. Bruce Bongar (the psychology of terrorism) while citing the study of merrari “the strategic intent of modern terrorists is to create huge numbers of secondary psychological casualties by means of large scale physical attacks. In the 1970s it was often repeated that terrorists ‘want a lot of people watching’ not a lot of people dead – today it is more accurate to say that terrorists want a lot of people dead – and even more crippled by fear and grief.” A study of the terrorist attack on 20th March 1995 (Sarin attack) in a Tokyo subway is a testament to the above mentioned fact, 12 people died but 4,000 went to their local hospitals for psychogenic symptoms (this is exactly what a terrorist would want). How many people are suffering from deep seated psychological affects in this long drawn out war in Pakistan is anybody’s guess. In a country where there is no disaster, mental health service, one wonders how many secondary/tertiary victims of bomb blasts have received psychiatric treatment. But if the government cannot put into place a policy regarding disaster mental health service. The least they can do is to initiate the drafting of a joint advisory to be drawn up by all stake holders dealing with terrorism starting with the FIA, all security and law enforcement agencies and PEMRA on the coverage of terrorist attacks. The advisory must take into account, that out of all force multipliers (technology, religion, transnational support, media coverage) it is the coverage and the media which gives the terrorist attacks several times the energy and effect. Analysts who studied the bombing of the twin towers point out that the probable reason behind the 17 minutes gap between the two crashes was to get the cameras in place so when the second plane would strike the whole world (literally billions) would witness the attack over and over again, in recordings if not in real time. The media as a force multiplier allows a small group committing a small limited attack to have an amplified effect (could be several hundred times over). Just how much expertise does one need to understand the simple equation between terrorist attacks and media coverage. It is about time we realise in the words of Joel Shurkin that the terrorist wants to deliver a message and the media is his messenger. On the other hand the media owes a duty to the public to keep them informed, this paradox has to be dealt with clear cut guidelines made by all stake holders that would ensure the delivery of the required information without the theatrical and dramatic presentation which has hitherto been the standard practice. For a start let’s do away with the grandiose background music, the animations of exploding vehicles and the constant hyped up repetition of the event and downgrade the placement of the news item. All this needs to be done with immediate effect we have already lost a lot of precious time.