Media coverage of terrorism perpetuates further violence, researchers claim

Sensationalist media coverage of acts of terrorism triggers further violence according to recent research into international media coverage.

The findings come from a study of more than 60,000 terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2012 as reported in the New York Times. The research was conducted by Michael Jetter, a professor at the School of Economics and Finance at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín, Colombia, and a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn, Germany.

In the study Jetter notes that over the past 15 years “the world has experienced a terrifying, exponential increase in the number of terrorist attacks”. The Global Terrorism Database listed 1,395 attacks in 1998 and shows a steady increase in the preceding years, reaching a record high of 8,441 in 2012.

An increase in graphic videos of beheadings filmed by Islamic State being released on the internet have perpetuated the group into a globally feared brand and stirred debate around how much should the groups be given “the oxygen of publicity”.

The study highlights the fact that terrorist organisations receive extensive media attention whiling pointing out the fact that “terrorists need media coverage to spread their message, create fear and recruit followers.”

A relationship between the media coverage and attacks was revealed when headline-grabbing terrorist attacks were compared with those that occurred during a bigger story, such as a natural disaster. A clear link emerged between the number of articles devoted to the initial terrorist incident and the number of follow-up attacks over the next few weeks.

Jetter’s paper, due to be presented at the annual European Economic Association congress in Mannheim, Germany, later this month, also found that different types of terrorist activity were found to have different media impacts. Another of the key findings showed that suicide missions receive significantly more media coverage, which Jetter believes could explain their increased popularity among terrorist groups.

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