Countering radicalisation through media

It is media’s responsibility to develop a counter-narrative that terrorism has no faith

Fizza Mumtaz March 17, 2018
Media reporters PHOTO: REUTERS

In the face of mounting radicalisation and terrorism in Pakistan and beyond, the media along with the military and the government can effectively indoctrinate de-radicalisation among the masses.

The famous “CNN effect” explains the significance of the media’s influence on a state’s policies particularly in conflict prevention and egalitarian interventions. As Colin Powell once observed, “Live television coverage doesn’t change the policy, but it does create the environment in which the policy is made. The media therefore can play a pivotal role in the process of de-radicalisation by broadcasting positive notions as news help build the perception of viewers.

The radicalisation of educated youth is just one click away

Americans, according to Noam Chomsky, have split the world between ‘them’ and ‘us’; “once ‘they’ were Communists, these days ‘they’ are Islamic fundamentalists”, a radical activity by an American is strategically termed a mass shooting, gang violence, a lone shooter, etc, but any radical activity by a Muslim is simply termed a terrorist activity. Due to this narrative not only indigenous American Muslims but Muslims throughout the world are facing racism, hatred and even violence. So, it is the media’s responsibility to develop a counter-narrative that terrorism has no faith, religion or boundaries, tagging it with religion can only worsen the situation by making war on terror inevitable.

The work of media acts as a foundation for political awareness: a journalist being true to his or her profession can hold public servants accountable for their actions by compelling them to remain honest with the authorities. But nothing is worse than politicised journalism as Edward Bulwer-Lytton said: “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Sometimes ignorance serves as a useful policy to discourage radical activity. For instance, the protest in Faizabad was avoidable. There are proper ways and designated places to record a protest and the media via its coverage actually ended up indirectly sponsoring such activities. Waiting for the ripe moment to broadcast news is pivotal. A chaotic situation emerged only after live coverage was given to the Lal Masjid affair. Almost every news channel was airing news prematurely and helping spread disorientation and misperception about the situation. Similarly, the insurgency in Swat was sparked by a radio programme that radicalised the common citizen there. If anything this shows how impactful the media is in radicalising the masses and conversely de-radicalising them. Therefore, the state’s established media protocol needs enforcement, particularly, constant monitoring of mass media activities and prohibition of live media coverage from crime scenes to avoid unnecessary perplexity, for the sake of security at the domestic level.

In today’s world the media is a “mirror of society” as it defines the cultural and normative dynamics, this medium leaves a lasting impact on the intellect of viewers to think and rethink about the issues being showcased and society eventually reflects on them. We can see the trends of our entertainment/morning shows; we have wholeheartedly endorsed Hindu customs while living together for decades and are now confusing customs with culture. As Stephen M Croucher in the article “Religion, culture, and communication” explains, religion is the essential layer of culture, and Pakistan’s media devotedly reflect on religion just in the month of Ramazan, whereas the true teachings of Islam needs to be observed throughout the year in order to discourage the culture of violence.

As the media plays a vital role in defining societal norms, therefore, entertainment media should display morally and ethically correct notions that inculcate moderation, respect, discipline, tolerance and discourage extremism, bigotry, racism, and impatience. To induce respectful values in society, it is crucial to discourage women’s characterisation and objectification in mass media and also young girls should be treated like children, not as a source of amusement. Online shaming and cybercrimes are another form of violence that require attention. Nighat Dad’s Digital Rights Foundation is working for digital rights and freedom of expression, however, awareness about cyber rights and responsibilities at the state level is vital to make technology safer.

Albert Einstein said: “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

I believe it’s about time the media seriously followed the state’s established protocol, bills, and preventive measures, as the National Action Plan (NAP) emphasised the positive role of media and literature in promoting an enlightened approach. However, only the media can make itself accountable, broadcasting the ramification of sharing ill-facts, fake news, and tailor-made information is essential for the awareness of the soft power media possesses and the magnitude of its mistakes being a source of unintentional radicalisation. Pakistan is a culturally diverse and territorially mesmerising place that needs projection, so we need to establish our own identity by rejecting the lead of foreign media.

National narrative on extremism finalised

It is true that freedom of speech is the backbone of democracy, thus the president of Pakistan wants the media to highlight government initiatives and development projects to spread hope and encourage optimism among the masses. It is undeniable that the media is a massive and rapid source of education as it spreads to the length and breadth of the state mostly in the form of television, radio, newspaper and magazines. The masses tend to rely on media documentaries and films, thus placing a great responsibility upon the media for conveying well-researched and unbiased dimensions of any subject.

Therefore, with such wide access and influence, the media is uniquely placed to promote tolerance, acceptance and an all-inclusive approach for peaceful societies. Also, there is an urgent need to abolish the superfluous divide between gender, caste and creed and most importantly between the government and the nation. Pakistan is full of talent and just a little push along the right path can bring robust and progressive changes. Through constructive criticism, critical thinking and a people-centric approach, the media can guarantee such a change.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2018.

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