Governments and terrorist experts have often depicted a symbiotic relationship between terrorists and the media, in which the former supposedly depend on the latter to broadcast 'messages' in the form of bombings, assassinations and atrocities.
But the public perception of terrorism is often shaped by selective media coverage, which concentrates exclusively on a particular version of 'terrorism', while ignoring incidents that fall outside this framework.
A revealing example of this process occurred last week when two men appeared separately in Burnley Magistrates' Court, charged under the 1883 Explosive Substances Act with possession of an explosive substance for an illegal purpose.
One of the accused was a BNP council candidate in last May's local elections in Colne, named Robert Cottage. In a raid on his house, police found what they called "the largest amount of chemical explosives of this type ever found in this country".
The other was a retired dentist named David Jackson, who was allegedly found in possession of a rocket launcher and a nuclear biological protection suit.
Both men were accused by the prosecution of common involvement in "some kind of masterplan". What this masterplan consisted of is not yet known. Nor has the identity of the 22 chemical compounds found by police been revealed.
But what is striking about their court appearance (they were remanded until October 23) is the failure of any mainstream newspaper or media outlet to report it at all.
It is not difficult to imagine what the response might have been had two Muslims been involved. There would have been banner headlines, police statements celebrating the prevention of another apocalyptic plot, suggestions of a wider conspiracy with nebulous 'linkages' to al-Qaeda. There would have been a collective shudder at another averted outrage, experts holding forth on the dangers of dirty bombs and homemade WMD. There would have been warnings of the ongoing threat to our 'values'. Above all, there would have been fear, all of it magnified by a credulous media, fed by inside information from nameless intelligence sources.
Instead there was total silence. In a week dominated by Muslim 'stories' in which veiled women and an unpleasant taxi driver constituted evidence of the alien, dangerous subculture in our midst, two white men accused of having explosives, a nuclear protection suit and a 'masterplan' fell outside the frame of the 'war on terror' and therefore did not get mentioned beyond local papers.
The same kind of selective coverage has occurred in the United States in the wake of 9/11, where the media and the US government regularly proclaim alleged Islamic 'sleeper cells' as confirmation of a vast terrorist conspiracy, while passing over the
arrests of men such as 'Doc Chaos', a self-professed 'anarchist-terrorist' who was arrested with large quantities of lethal chemicals in March 2003.
That same year, William Joseph Krar, a Texan white supremacist, was arrested in possession of a lethal arsenal, including a homemade cyanide bomb. Between them both men possessed more deadly chemicals than have been discovered in the whole of Iraq, yet both cases passed virtually unmentioned in the US media.
Such silence is clearly not dependent on the degree of mayhem particular individuals or organisations might be willing to inflict, but on whether such mayhem belongs to the currently defined version of the terrorist threat.
In the United States, as in Britain, it seems that terrorists are not the only ones who benefit from the oxygen of publicity, as governments tell the public what they should and should not be afraid of.
Item taken from The First Post http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=815