Terrorism and the Mass Media

This paper argues that the media unnecessarily and irresponsibly represents the threat of terrorism particularly since the 9/11 terror attacks on US soil. In other words, the media engages moral panic in reporting and informing the public of the threat of terrorism. This paper is therefore divided into two main parts. The first part of this paper sets out the theoretical underpinnings of moral panic. The second part of this paper identifies how the theoretical underpinnings of moral panic are manifested in the media’s coverage of terrorism since the 9/11 terror attacks on the US. Moral Panic This paper analyzes the degree of moral panic used in the mass media in its coverage of terrorism following the 9/11 terror attacks. In this regard, moral panic is used within the theoretical structure espoused by Stan Cohen in 1973. According to Cohen (1973, cited in Critcher, 2003) every now and again, societies are seized by moral panic. To this end, moral panic is characterized by six essential features. First there is a condition, episode, person or group or persons who are defined as a threat to societal values and interests. Secondly, the nature of the perceived threat and the individuals or groups involved are represented in stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media…. Finally, the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible.9 According to Critcher (2003) Cohen was describing a chain reaction instigated by the media’s exaggerated coverage of deviance among a group of young people who had come together on England’s east coast in 1964. The youth were identified as Mods and Rockers. At the gathering, the youth became bored and a number of minor altercations took place and the police were involved. The headlines in the Newspapers bored catchphrases such as wild one, 97 arrests and terror.10 One editorial demanded that government take action and another newspaper explained friction between the two groups.11 Another incident allegedly involving Mods and Rockers occurred shortly after the first incident in other coastal towns. The newspaper carried essentially the same types of exaggerated reports as before. The spillover effect was evidenced by the judiciary’s treatment of those who had been arrested. Many were denied bail, others were subjected to excessive fines for minor offences such as obstruction and those facing more serious offences were incarcerated. Local business representatives, citizens and politicians called for harsher consequences. Thus, according to Critchena whole new social problem had been defined.12 A series of legislative interventions were observed with the passage of the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act and the Malicious Damage Act. Other interventions included the police actively turning young people away from resorts on the coast. Anyone failing to take the police advice would be arrested. By 1966, gatherings on the coast diminished and