By Bernard Wainaina
The media were vital for Al-Qaeda.
Before his death, Osama bin Laden was obsessed with the media and was at one point described as “a publicity hound” who had “caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause”.
His successor, the Egyptian Al-Zawahiri, was once quoted as saying that “more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media”.
A FORM OF THEATRE
How is Al-Shabaab using the media?
First, it is important to understand that terrorism is a form of theatre and cannot exist without an audience.
It is not the magnitude of an attack that counts; it is the resulting publicity.
We must understand that when a few citizens are slaughtered, the attack is a form of communication to the wider Kenyan public and possibly beyond.
In this sense, therefore, the media become a critical platform through which the massage of terrorism is communicated to the audience.
These attacks are political texts purposely aimed at influencing public opinion and re-organisation of government and policy.
The sacking of the Internal Security Cabinet Secretary and the exit of the police chief are evidence that the Kenyan state has heard the terrorists’ message.
Second, the clearest sign that terrorists are beginning to “mediatise” attacks is the aspect of contagion.
The attack on the quarry workers, in which the victims were made to lie down in a line, then shot in the head was choreographed to fit within the media frame that had been set
up by the attack on the Makkah Bus, which had gained wide coverage.
Al shabaab made sure that the bodies were well arranged for maximum “CNN,BBC and Al Jazera” photo effect!
Audiences were treated to photographs and videos of the dead, which was previously rare in the Kenyan media.
These gave the terrorists publicity and helped to spread the fear that gripped the nation.
Terrorists also hope to gain other goals such as recognition of the group and their demands and the possibility of gaining a quasi-legitimate status.
When the opposition and civil society groups call press conferences to demand the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia, they are not only playing into the hands of terrorists, whose intention is to divide our national psyche, they inadvertently give recognition to Al-Shabaab by implying
that the group has legitimate grievances against the Kenyan state.
The media contribute to public discourse by appropriating and fixing labels on persons and events.
Labels often imply a moral evaluation and also embed a treatment option.
While there is no doubt that Al-Shabaab has orchestrated the recent attacks in Mandera and other parts of the country,there is inconsistency in how they are characterised.
Often, the attacks are labelled as the handiwork of “militants”, “terrorists”, or “criminals”.
Some labels bestore recognition and quasi-legitimate status while others simply deny that privilege.
While the Kenyan media remain pivotal, there is certainly a need for developing editorial policies on how to cover terrorism.
Not much can be said of opposition which sounds like a mouth-piece for terrorist propaganda;the less said about the opposition antics of gaining political mileage from terrorist attacks instead of calling for unity and patriotism during these incidents,the better.
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®