| It is often said the mass media plays into the hands of
in detail their acts of terrorism. On the other hand, informational
limitations can turn into a complete absence of reliable information and
loss of the media's independence.
Last week Rosbalt Information Agency hosted a roundtable discussion
topic 'Mass Media and Terrorism-How to Break This Dangerous Connection?'
roundtable, organized as a forum of 'The Psychology and Psychopathology
Terrorism', gathered journalists, psychologists, and sociologists in an
effort to discern whether the media can remain true to its professional
purposes and not become an unwilling 'tool' of terror or a 'cog' in the
There has long been discussion over how to inform society about terrorist
acts, or even whether to inform society at all. The hostage siege at the
Dubrovka Theatre Centre on October 23, 2002 stands as perhaps the time
we all began to ask ourselves if the mass media was acting correctly in
situations. In any case, from that moment on, most of society began to
really ask the question of how journalists should respond to acts of
terrorism, and whether soulful shows with the participation of actual
terrorists and hostages shown live on air are acceptable. What is o.k.,
what is not o.k. to tell people? Of course, television nightmares were
plentiful in the past as well. But Russian television viewers were seeing
'reality show' of this scale for the very first time.
Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief for the radio station Echo Moskvy,
came under fire from the Ministry of Press for its coverage of the Durbrovka
events, voiced the thought during the roundtable that journalists should
ignore their relationship to viewers, listeners, and readers: 'If they
reject us, it means that we are not doing our job correctly.' In other
words, it is necessary to be oriented on a kind of social demand. In
general, it is hard to argue with this point of view. We will try to look,
however, at more of the details.
Abundant violence on the television screen has long evoked protest from
society. Scores of surveys witness to the fact that most Russians would
welcome 'the introduction of censorship' to television. What is not clear,
however, is what exactly does the word 'censorship' mean in this case.
The paradox, here, is that the selection of artistic films and programs
for broadcast on television is not made intuitively, or in accordance
with the tastes of the station's leadership, but as a result of audience
research. The situation is a strange one-we don't want to watch, but we
love it: So the real issue, most likely, is about something else.
News is truly one thing that you cannot have made to order. We won't
into account the 'pseudoevents' and processes of sorting out news in order
of importance, in part becoming oriented on the demands of the consumer,
in part acting upon that consumer. All of this has its place, and yet
situation where there is a terrorist act, a news channel that doesn't
censorship cannot ignore it, because, if nothing else, this event has
meaning and importance for society. It is a call that requires an answer.
the society is a civil one, (or has aspirations to become such) a societal
answer must be made. Of course, if we support the authoritarian structure
can easily abstain from the 'bad news' in favor of more positive
Nevertheless, we aspire to correspond to certain Western standards of
democracy (the relative nature of these standards is discussed below),
that means that we need a mass media that will not conceal from us the
information we need to formulate our answer.
'As a journalist, I must cover events,' emphasized Alexei Venediktov
at the roundtable. Another round tale participant--Literaturnaya Gazeta
columnist Arkady Sosnov- stressed the importance of journalists as a societal
institution, requesting that the press not be made to be on the 'fringe'.
Venediktov also noted that the press is not part of the conflict, but
that the conflict is between officials and terrorists, while the press
is only a third party which covers the conflict, and should not try to
assume unusual functions.
Press coverage, to be sure, comes in different kinds. In those Western
countries, on whose standards we are attempting to orient our practices,
approaches are extremely varied. In one instance, during the attack on
World Trade Center in New York, television restricted itself to only the
most general coverage. However in Spain, for example, after the recent
tragedy in Madrid, journalists displayed in full detail the horrible effects
of the blasts, including the mutilated bodies of the dead.
Motivations can also be different, and the characteristics of the audience
must be considered. As psychologist Sergei Tsytsarev (US) explained at
roundtable, people in different countries react differently to what they
watch on television. In Japan, for example, the abundance of violence
TV screen doesn't seem to have an effect on the psyche of people (the
of violence in Japan is extremely low), while in the US people seem to
extremely sensitive and believe everything they see on TV. As for Russia,
such studies have been carried out so it is difficult to make any
Informational Cause to Reflect
In the Russian media, wars and terrorist acts have become cause for
accusations. A few suppositions have been made-some plausible, and some
not-but for the most part no one is proving anything consistently enough.
the backdrop of a factual shortage of information about what is actually
happening, even the most fantastic hypotheses can seem real.
And the shortage of information exists-and for perfectly objective reasons.
Terrorist acts happening here are traditionally anonymous except for hostage
situations where the terrorists might be seen. The requests or demands,
rule, are also absent. It is as if it should be loud and clear to everyone
involved: And so the field of speculation, as a result, opens far and
Some are inclined to see the ghosts of the Federal Security Service above
the exploding houses, while others search for 'scary Vakhabits', not
entirely understanding those about whom they are speaking, or even what
issue is, meddling willy-nilly in the internal affairs of the leaders
Muslim society. Is it really worth it to wait for the citizens' reaction
what is happening if it is based on this mass brainwashing?
Similar practices, it must be confessed, are characteristic of journalists.
Bright and paradoxical interpretations are attractive, but hardly explain
anything. In contrast, assume we have taken out of the terrorist coverage
anything shocking, or any interpretations of what has happened, leaving
the bare facts: 'There was an explosion, this many people died, this many
were wounded:' It would seem a completely logical solution. But it is
on a false premise-that it is better not to worry.
People often talk about adapting to terror, or becoming accustomed to
And perhaps it is exactly a monotonous supply of information that will
to that very adaptation. A neutral news format will make terrorist acts
That the media may become 'accustomed to' terrorism could happen in
to the media as a system, and selecting news for broadcast. And for this
they should be criticized! But can people really become accustomed to
The phenomenon of adapting to pain is well known-but that is pure
psychophysiology. So what about thoughts?
Ask yourself this question-could you become accustomed to terrorism?
about the wording:it is possible that the next 'pyrotechnics' in the style
of September 11 won't leave such an impression on you. But how can we
of becoming accustomed to terrorism as an experience? Are you accustomed
terrorism? I, personally, am not!
I think that someone swimming through television today does not necessarily
encounter more terrible things that he would have seen in real life in
past. In the end, even becoming accustomed to things did not stop people
from fighting with injustice through revolution or innovation. And that
what separates us from the animals.
We cannot remain silent about essential issues, even if it brings pain.
May 9 when I turned on the television to learn about the details of the
tragedy in Chechnya, I saw a live broadcast of a holiday concert-happy
in Moscow with the popular performers gladdening the crowd. The picture
initially stunned me by its obvious inconsistency with the moment.
Some will say that the terrorists 'didn't ruin our holiday.' It seems
however, that by the lack of attention to what was really happening it
actually was ruined-turned into some sort of insensible ritual. May 9,
all, is not just a time to have fun. Rather, it gives us cause to remember
how we were able to gain victory in the Great Patriotic War. It order
defeat terrorism, society needs to activate its hidden potential.
The fact that the mass media did not adequately cover May 9 was discussed
the roundtable. According to Michael Rreshetnikov, Rector of the
Eastern-European Institute of Psychoanalysis, this was the intention of
terrorists, foreseeing the media's limp reaction. Does anyone in Russia
really need Chechnya if the assassination of the president, chosen by
people of that republic (no matter what they may say about the election
process), isn't enough to tear the society away from its holiday
Antiterrorist Vacancy Again and again we see legislative measures put
that ban showing the victims of terrorist acts, or ban reporting these
without the approval of the powers that be. Thankfully, these bills have
found support. The topic is just too difficult to adequately turn into
without doing a lot of harm. This, it seems, was something on which the
Rosbalt roundtable participants did agree.
The issue here is most likely one of self organization and self limitation.
In connection with this we remember the antiterrorism convention, ratified
by journalists after 'Nord-Osta'. Thanks to this convention, noted Alexei
Venediktov, the terrorist acts in the Moscow metro and the tragedy in
water park were covered in a new way.
Journalists will have to learn to work with these events. Ultimately,
a great stress for them with all the possible consequences. So just how
we combat the stress and still avoid becoming a tool in the terrorists'
hands? It is clear that journalists and experts in this area must work
together to find a solution.
Sergei Tsytsarev, speaking to the roundtable, pointed to the need for
behavioral model alternative to terrorism. As long as there is no such
model, the media will continue to help the terrorists, no matter how hard
they try to do otherwise. According to Alexander Ureva, Doctor of
Psychological Sciences, remarkable minds are behind the terrorist acts.
less remarkable minds, therefore, should take part in developing an
anti-terrorist strategy-including that of the media.
Society needs a shot of new ideas so that the information of these events,
like the events themselves, can mobilize society instead of destroying
'Negative' ways of solving the problem (limits, bans, bombing) must be
aside. In place of these we must search for 'positive' resolutions, which,
it is clear, are appreciably more difficult. But only after we find these
resolutions will media discussions of terrorist acts cease to be 'two-way
the original at
Freedom of Speech
and Media Law in Russia
Terror in Moscow