“Without communication, there would be no terrorism.” In this manner, McLuhan boiled down the news media’s perennial dilemma with regard to covering terrorism. While they are obliged to inform the public about terrorist attacks and the threat thereof, in doing so the news media may grant terrorists the visibility they strategically pursue to propagate their messages and recruit new followers. However, terrorists of course do not always seek visibility, but also invisibility when planning attacks, hiding from authorities, and so on. In other words, both mainstream news media and terrorists themselves hold strategic interests in rendering terrorists visible and invisible at different times and in different ways. How and to which extent the news media should cover terrorists and their actions thus constitutes a highly contentious subject – not least in today’s digitalized and globalized media landscape that gives terrorists easy access to producing and circulating images. This paper addresses two prevalent forms for making terrorists visible in the news media, “surveillance representations” and “self-representations” by drawing on a theoretical framework concerning personalization, as well as mediated visibility/surveillance. Empirically, the paper is based on a quantitative content analysis of coverage of terrorism by Danish public service broadcasters to provide an overview of the proportions between surveillance representations and self-representations and develop a typology of the most widespread genres: ID photography, surveillance footage, selfies and, and private snapshots.
Mette Mortensen, PhD is Associate Professor in Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen and a CARGC Faculty Fellow for fall 2018. She is the Principal Investigator of the large, collective research project “Images of Conflict, Conflicting Images” (2017-2021). She is the author or editor of seven books, including the monograph Eyewitness Images and Journalism: Digital Media, Participation, and Conflict (Routledge 2015). She has published articles in international journals such as Journalism Practice, Information, Communication & Society, Media, Culture & Society, and International Journal of Cultural Studies. She is a member of the editorial collective Northern Lights: Yearbook of Film and Media Studies and on several editorial boards of book series.
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