Mediated terrorism, publicity, and security establishmentBy Kishore Budha • Dec 9th, 2008 • Category: Audience, Commercialisation, Media Industry, Media Practice, Must Read
It has usually been argued that the mass mediated nature of terrorism works two ways. Terrorism afterall is symbiotically intertwined with the spectacle hungry round-the-clock media and its consumers. Thus, we are provided the spectacle of terror, to which we are transfixed with shock and awe. The security establishment has always struggled to keep up with this aspect of media. Historically, the US military still smarts from the Vietnam war effect, according to which the war was lost at home due to the media. Thus, when it came to the Iraq invasions the US military’s strategy was to respond with the concept of embedded journalists and coordinated briefings to the media. The Indian security and military establishment, it seems, has yet to learn its lessons on how to engage with the media in a scenario where the logic of the free market lets loose a market place of information. The news is not in your “control”, though a Chomsky-ian view of it would argue that consent can always be manufactured. In this scenario, terrorists have as much access to the media as the security establishment and competing security agencies don’t make a very pretty picture as the Mumbai attacks demonstrated.
The 26 Nov Mumbai attacks by terrorists served to show the cracks in the establishment as different agencies sought media attention by giving press conferences even as the operations against the terrorists were on. As DNA reported on Dec 01 (“Black Tornado blunted by lapses”) the officer incharge from the Indian Army was giving media interviews in an almost competitive nature with the navy officer incharge:
The one-upmanship reached a level that the government had to order the army to ask its southern command chief, Lt-Gen Noble Thamburaj, to go back to Pune. Thamburaj had flown down to Mumbai to brief the media even as the operation was on.
The government also instructed the three services to keep their mouths shut and not try and grab media attention when the operation was on. The army, navy and air force were reminded that it was an NSG operation and that their role was only peripheral. (link here)
The Indian Navy’s Marine Commandoes (MarCos) stepped into the limelight to give a press conference (watch CNN report here) while the Western Naval commander Vice Admiral J S Bedi was busy “giving out sensitive information” to the electronic media, which was possibly being watched by the terrorists inside (read Indian Express report here). Meanwhile, police investigations into the networks within India that may have provided logistical support to the terrorists were underway. The Kolkata police is believed to have obtained a prize catch, who later turned out to be an undercover operative supplying SIM cards to terror groups so that the intelligence agencies could then track and intercept communications. The Kolkata police too seems to have fallen for the media publicity bait and unwittingly blew the cover of the operative (BBC, “Anger at ‘blown’ Mumbai arrests”, Dec 08).
Mukhtar Ahmed has told those questioning him that he was working for police intelligence in Indian-administered Kashmir.
His brief was to procure SIM cards for Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters and pass the numbers to police so that all calls from those numbers could be monitored by intelligence (link).
The Pakistani media twisted this arrest as proof of their “home-grown terror” thesis while the life of the undercover operative and his family is now in jeapordy.
Looks like the only people to have benefited from the Mumbai attacks are the terrorists, the media, and their advertisers.
Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day by Philip M Taylor (Manchester University Press) is a useful book on the subject
Kishore Budha is one of the co-founders of Subaltern Media and the founder-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Wide Screen. He holds a PhD in media and communications studies from the University of Leeds, UK and has professional experience in print journalism, internet news, and public relations industries. His interests include Critical Theories of Media and Communication, Semiotics, Transnational Communication, Film industry & production, Film theory, Film and history, Communications Policy, Visual Culture, Communication Technologies, Web media and Communication
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