Title: World Risk Society: An East-West Comparative Analysis of Mediatised Terrorism
Since the events of 11 September 2001, terrorism has been the subject of intense media interest, political dialogue and public scrutiny. The preoccupation with the risk of future terrorist attacks has led to a trend towards, predominantly, racialized policies of (in)securitization and pre-emptive action. With a view to decipher the mediatised reality of terrorism in the World Risk Society, this project favours a multi-disciplinary approach that takes inspiration from the fields of sociology, political science, security and terrorism studies. In this sense, the project acknowledges that an investigation of mediatised narratives of terrorism requires an understanding of the politics of securitization. It sets out to investigate journalistic construction of two acts of terror in two diverse cultural site – Muslim-minority Australia and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Informed by the critical interpretivist epistemology, the project deploys case study, a mixed-methods approach that includes textual analysis and in-depth interviews with journalists in both worlds to examine the 15 December 2014 Lindt Café hostage crisis in Australia, and the 16 December 2014 Army Public School (APS) attack in Pakistan. The project is significant in that it is the first to consider the inter-connections between East and West in the mediatised war on terror, as earlier studies have mainly been West-centric. It is also the first to offer empirical analysis of the construction and production of newspeak about terrorism in Pakistani media and explore the cultural risk of ‘othering’ in a non-Western setting.
Findings show that both Australia and Pakistan seem to be preoccupied with the management of manufactured uncertainties such as terrorism through the implementation of improvised security policies. However, terrorism and security take on different meanings. In Australia, terrorism can be established even in the absence of political motivation, while in Pakistan, the military establishment has the monopoly over its definition based on strategic alliances with militants. Media in both countries is used by the ruling elite as a propaganda tool for legitimising their claims. Oversimplified and ideologically driven media narratives about the extent and severity of real or manufactured risks have resulted in culturalization of terrorism and marginalisation of minority groups in both countries. After the Lindt Café and APS attacks, driven by patriotism, calculation or coercion, the Australian and Pakistani media mostly chose to follow the official newspeak, at the risk of excessive self-censorship and becoming mere stenographers for state power. The quality of coverage in both countries was determined by many factors, including commercial interests, availability of resources, internal and external pressures and singular conceptions of ethics and the social role of media. These factors also significantly impact media independence and its Fourth Estate status. Media freedom in both countries is conditional at best. Governments in Australia and Pakistan vie for control by silencing the media through legislating, emergency gag orders, holding back information and implicit or explicit threats. As the fourth pillar of society, while journalists in Pakistan often abdicate their watchdog duties out of concern for self-preservation, journalists in Australia do so on account of time and/or resource management issues. Finally, based on the reflections of the interview participants, research findings and the universal principles of journalism, the project offers suggestions for responsible terrorism coverage such as caution and doubt, being wary of word games and thinking beyond the nation-state.
Saira Ali holds a Masters in Transnational Communications and Global Media from Goldsmith's College, University of London, UK; a Masters in English Literature from the University of the Punjab, Pakistan; and a Graduate Diploma in Arts from USC. Saira has over 10 years of experience in the media industry, having worked at the top tiers of publishing with Kitab and the Oxford University Press, Pakistan. Since commencing her PhD in 2015 in the School of Creative Industries under the principal supervision of Dr Umi Khattab, she has been working as Dr Khattab’s Research Assistant and teaching in various Public Relations and Social Media courses. During her candidature, Saira published five co-authored research articles in top-ranking academic journals such as International Communication Gazette; Global Media and Communication; and Media International Australia. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, Public Relations and Strategic Communication, Oxford University Press, Australia.