At one point during the conference of chiefs of Anti-Terrorism Squads, which National Security Advisor Ajit Doval addressed on Monday (parts of his speech were reported by The Indian Express), he referred to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “Media is a very important organ to fight terrorism. As Margaret Thatcher said, if terrorists take action and the media is quiet, the terrorism will end. Terrorists terrorise people. If media does not write, nobody would come to know,” Doval said.
While Doval did not specify which speech by Thatcher he was referring to, there is a well-known speech in which Thatcher, who was PM between 1979 and 1990, spoke about terrorism and the media. This was her address to the American Bar Association in 1985, and the text is on the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
In June 1985, militants affiliated with Hezbollah hijacked Trans World Airlines flight 847, taking more than 150 passengers hostage. A US Navy diver was killed, and the hostages were released in batches in a prisoner exchange with Israel. The hijacking got huge media coverage across the world.
On 15 July 1985, Thatcher spoke the hijacking at the American Bar Association, where she said, “We must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”
What Margaret Thatcher said
From the full text on the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, the following are excerpts from the then UK PM’s speech:
“In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?”
“In this evil strategy, the actions of the media are all important. For newspapers and television, acts of terrorism inevitably make good copy and compelling viewing. The hijacker and the terrorist thrive on publicity: without it, their activities and their influence are sharply curtailed. There is a fearful progression, which the terrorists exploit to the full. They see how acts of violence and horror dominate the newspaper columns and television screens of the free world. They see how that coverage creates a natural wave of sympathy for the victims and pressure to end their plight no matter what the consequence. And the terrorists exploit it. Violence and atrocity command attention. We must not play into their hands.”
“The terrorist uses force because he knows he will never get his way by democratic means. Through calculated savagery, his aim is to induce fear in the hearts of people. And weariness towards resistance.”
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