A prominent international news agency places the following statement at the end of each of its press releases on the war between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE.
The Tigers have fought the government since 1983 to create a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the island country's north and east after a history of discrimination by successive governments controlled by the majority ethnic Sinhalese.
The above quote refers to the proclaimed grievance in the Tamil community that legitimizes the use of violence against the state. The use of violence by the LTTE extended beyond the state and its armed elements from 1976 onwards to include Tamil moderates and, in the 1980s, to Sinhalese and Muslim civilians. This resulted in the creation of a Big Lie to continue justifying violence. Certain sections of the Mass Media from the West, either willingly or unwillingly, have and are still assisting this 'cause' of the LTTE. The end result is parasitic elements in the doorsteps of the Western States. These elements are then removed, by the western states themselves, through laborious investigations on charges of 'fundraising for terrorists' or other such claims in the post 9/11 world. Despite serious changes in the way minorities have been treated in Sri Lanka, with many minorities becoming 'King-Makers' for example, the 'cause' of both the LTTE and the Western Media has remained the same. Statements such as the above is actually a clever manipulation of the International Media by the LTTE.
A cause can be justified, whether it is the truth or a fabrication, through the media. The United States Office of Strategic Services, in an analysis of Adolf Hitler's use of the media claimed that “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently people will sooner or later believe it.” Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister for the Nazi Third Reich stated regularly that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This is not to say that there are absolutely no Tamil grievances. Whatever grievances that remain are exacerbated through the search for the cause itself or may even be exaggerated. For example, the freedom for a Tamil to move about freely in Sri Lanka maybe hampered by roadblocks to detect LTTE movements.
The Mass Media of today is a Commercial Mass Media whose news value system has changed drastically over the years. The famous adage “Bad news is good news, good news is bad news, and no news is bad news” compels those who require publicity to commit crime and thereby obtain publicity for themselves and their cause.
Terrorist violence and propaganda have much in common. Terrorist violence aims at behaviour modification by coercion. Propaganda aims at the same by persuasion. Terrorism can be seen as a combination of the two. Terrorism, by using violence against one victim, seeks to coerce and persuade others. The immediate victim is merely instrumental.
The terrorist demonstrates to the citizens that the state is incapable of protecting them all the time. Acting from a clandestine underground at a moment of his own choosing, the terrorist manages to establish, for a few minutes - superiority over the mighty state. This temporary presence of the terrorist then perpetuates itself through media coverage, rumours and speculation and thereby gains a longevity it could not generate by itself.
Terrorists may thus attempt to manipulate the target audiences at the emotional level. Walter Laqueur says that “The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives”. If audiences are the target, the terrorists are the star performers. The media and the terrorists interact in a peculiar way. As Alex Schmid put it:
“While it is true that everybody tries to use the media, the terrorists do so by spilling other people’s blood, including the blood of innocents. The purposeful creation of bad events by means of terroristic violence can assure them free access to the news system. Expressed somewhat cynically: Some people have to perish at the hands of terrorists so that editors will publicise the existence, demands, and goals of terrorists. Editors can become accessories to murder. The division of labour between the terrorist as fear generator and the unwitting editor as fear amplifier and transmitter has not been fully perceived and absorbed by all those responsible for the media”.