Comparing National vs. International Coverage of Terrorism: A Framing Analysis of the Reina Nightclub Terrorist Attack

Comparing National vs. International Coverage of Terrorism: A Framing Analysis of the Reina Nightclub Terrorist Attack

Burcu Pinar Alakoc, Emel Ozdora-Aksak
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9755-2.ch007
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While terrorist incidents are physically, psychologically, and financially costly, they also provide targeted governments with a window of opportunity to engage in public diplomacy in the international arena. In the wake of terrorist attacks, leaders of the targeted countries can try to use media outlets to convey intentionally crafted messages and framing strategies, described generally as public diplomacy, to foster dialogue and shape international public opinion. The success of public diplomacy, however, depends on how far these national messages reach, and how effective they are in swaying international public opinion. Drawing on national and international news sources, this study conducts a framing analysis of 40 new stories covering the Reina nightclub terrorist attack, which took place in Istanbul on New Year's Eve of 2017. It analyzes the similarities and differences in the national versus international media coverage of the incident and discusses their implications for the effectiveness of Turkish public diplomacy.
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Violent and terrifying, most terrorist attacks make the global headlines. When a vehicle plows into pedestrians on a busy street, or when a suicide bomber explodes in the middle of a shopping district killing innocent people and causing destruction, cameras start rolling and bring the tragic footage from the scene of the incident into people’s homes. Studies that look at the relationship between terrorism and mass media suggest that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two: publicity feeds terrorism, and terrorism generates more publicity, increasing news ratings (Wilkinson, 1999; Hoffman, 2006; Peresin, 2007; Koblin, 2015; Nacos, 2016). While media outlets provide terrorist organizations with a credible platform to make and spread their propaganda, terrorist incidents, much to the dismay of their perpetrators, also provide governments of targeted societies with an opportunity to influence public opinion (Melnick and Eldor, 2010; Jetter, 2017; Tuman, 2010; Chermak and Gruenewald, 2006). In the wake of collective social tragedies such as terrorism, political leaders often appear before national and international audiences and give speeches using unifying rhetoric around national solidarity and international cooperation. In this context, terrorist attacks can become strategic communication tools for governments to clarify their positions, ground their political and moral standing, attribute responsibility in ways that align with their national security interests, and justify their policy responses to broader audiences.

All of these efforts by political leaders to positively influence international public opinion are known as public diplomacy (Yarchi et al., 2013; Malone, 1985). For public diplomacy efforts to be successful, the political actors in question should employ carefully crafted discursive practices that strategically narrate the incident from the government’s perspective, include distinct labels to distinguish between perpetrators and victims, and justify planned courses of action while resonating with both national and international audiences. In this regard, effective public diplomacy will increase the visibility of strategic discourse crafted by the national government within the international news media following an incident of grand scale.

The extant literature on media, terrorism and public diplomacy focuses primarily on different uses of public diplomacy as a communication strategy, engages in cross-country comparative analysis of media portrayals of various terrorist incidents, and elaborates how terrorist groups might seize on targets of opportunity to promote their ideology and violent agenda (Patrick, 2014; Papacharissi and Oliveira, 2008; Yarchi, 2016; Jetter, 2017). What is under-emphasized in this literature is how national governments engage in public diplomacy, namely deploying intentional frames and discursive strategies, in an effort to influence international news coverage, shape international public opinion, and support their nation’s image abroad (Sheafer and Gabay, 2009).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Public Opinion: Collective views and opinions held by general publics about a particular issue.

Counterterrorism: A variety of military and nonmilitary strategies adopted by governments in order to prevent future acts of terrorism.

Strategic Framing: Rhetorical tools used to construct social reality by intentionally highlighting certain aspects of social events while ignoring others in an effort to manipulate people’s perceptions.

National Security: Ability of a state to protect and defend its citizens, borders, economy, and institutions.

Terrorist Attack: Deliberate act of violence perpetrated by non-state actor(s) intended to intimidate and coerce government(s) in pursuit of a political objective.

News Coverage: Reporting, publishing, and broadcasting of news in newspapers, tv programs, or online news platforms.

Islamic State (IS): Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a fundamentalist extremist group that adheres to Salafi-Jihadist ideology and seeks to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. It is known for its extreme acts of violence including terrorist attacks and public executions as well as illicit financial flows, and savvy use of social media platforms.

Public Diplomacy: A government's efforts to communicate with foreign publics for reputation management purposes.

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