Media and war on terror, violent extremism

The spate of terrorist attacks especially in Lamu County (largely associated with insurgents in Boni forest),reports of radicalization of citizens in various parts of the county and incidences of violent extremism have gone while Government and other non-state actors intensifies efforts to implement the country’s multi- agency operation.

So also has media coverage of terrorism and related activities become more professional over the years.
Media has professionally learnt how to balance between the need to report on such attacks with the requirement to respect national security expectations during such events.

The approach has seen the Government increase its security operations (intelligence gathering and enhanced operations to deter such activities), actions by non-state actors to increase community resilience against negative effects of terrorism (rehabilitation, re integration and countering violent extremism) and media/security dialogues to minimize publicity to terrorist and sharing information that does not compromise national security.

There is need for increased support from members of the public to supplement these efforts, because in addition to being a security issue, terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism are as such social, political and economic issues.

The interventions have largely been successful, though with challenges as the number of attacks have decreased, the security agents have been able to demobilize a number planned activities by the militias, there is massive community initiatives including amenities to returning/reforming terrorists/radicalized youths, programmes for trauma counseling for mothers, enhancing community adaptation to the effects of VE among others.

The National Counter Terrorism Center has particularly been strategic in coordinating such interventions across the Government, Media Council of Kenya has partnered with the Ministry of Interior to hold media/ security dialogues including producing guidelines on media reporting on terrorism among others. Additionally, Non state actors including Act!Kenya have ruing several programmes including nurturing partnerships between communities, civil society and governments, including security agencies to address the security challenges occasioned by violent extremism and facilitating communities and security agencies to embrace technology in identifying and responding to warning signs of violent extremism and radicalization.

Each of the Counties affected largely by terrorism has also developed specific strategies on dealing with the issue as different regions, social group and social class has different experiences with terrorism.

Among the major causalities of increased terrorists attacks has been the media as journalists have suffered a lot during this attacks, physical attacks, trauma, loss of equipment, mental stress and also been exposed to being recruited. People have accused the media of showing dead bodies, using inciting language, giving platform for Al Shabaab especially through live coverage.

There are several policy and legal documents that exist to guide the practice of journalism and some of the most important aspects including the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the National Intelligence Service Act in 2012, the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act (POCAMLA, 2009), and the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (POCA, 2010),Penal Code, defamation Act, Official Secrets Act cap 187, Article 27 on Equality and freedom from discrimination, Article 33: Freedom of Expression and related exemptions, Media Council Act, KICA among others. In addition, a number of administrative pronouncements and policy statements have been made by the authorities targeted at the media; with clear indication that media must change the way it covers matters of national security.

As indicated, media needs to increasingly be included in ongoing efforts to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, as many times they are exposed to physical dangers during such security operations, run the risk of being targeted by the terrorists or security agencies, traumatized from what they see, or run the risk of being recruited into such groups or become radicalized. We need specific interventions for the media as they are high risk group in the war on terror.

The Writer works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Programmes Manager and a Journalists safety Trainer.

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