A special Saudi Arabian criminal court on Sunday began a criminal trial where one of the defendants is charged with amongst other counts, providing PR support to terrorists. Amongst the criminal charges being faced: “utilizing media to support terrorism, publishing inflammatory statements on a number of electronic sites.” One wonders if Saudi Arabia is charging people in criminal court for providing Public Relations support for Terrorists, why are terrorists allowed to continue using American technology and PR Firms to spread their message?
There are many great uses for Public Relations – but a justified cause is not enough to be right these days, either in politics or in business. In any battle – preparation for any war includes a PR battle plan, and the bad guys seemingly get it.
Terrorists and their supporters continue to use modern day public relations tools – and are increasingly skilled at doing so.
Hamas, which was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State in April 1993 tweets regularly at http://twitter.com/hamasinfo. This, despite a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice statement that Hamas threatened the United States through covert cells on American soil. One can join the over 9500 followers of The al-Qassam Brigades in their very active twitter account at http://twitter.com/AlqassamBrigade - an organization which was founded in 1992 as Hamas’ military wing, and only 10 years ago was designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization.
In March 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Al-Aqsa TV and designated it a terrorism-financing organization which serves as a primary Hamas media outlet that airs programs "designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood." They continue to tweet at http://twitter.com/AqsaTVChannel
Hezbollah tweets regularly from al-Manar News account http://twitter.com/almanarnews, with over 11,000 followers. A recent English-language tweet links to a story on Al-Manar News which states: "Ahmadinjead: Central Bank Strong Enough to Defeat US plans.”
Will Twitter allow this to continue even as Saudi Arabia prosecutes someone for providing PR support to terrorists? Is Twitter enabling terrorists to spread their word and succeed? I recently wrote about how PR firms assist in selling terror and brutality – from Assad’s Syrian regime to previous representation of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, terrorist organizations Hamas and Hizbullah have hired PR agencies to lobby for them in the press and on the world stage.
It’s a continuation of how democratization of the media can be used for good and for bad. With modern day technology changes and the democracy of media, it’s a scary coincidence that while there is (what I believe to be the 1st) trial of someone being prosecuted for providing PR support for terrorists the same week Israel launches Google Street View. In a country where military headquarters and the Prime Minister's residence have been blurred for security reasons one can understand concerns that terrorists could use the services to target civilians. In the past, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has indicated that it made use of Google Earth technology to fire rockets into Israel. In an interview with a Beirut news agency in 2008, a spokesman for PIJ said "when the militants fire missiles on Israeli targets, they do so in collaboration with the experts in the unit who specify the military and political positions. They also use Google Earth, which helps a lot."
“Shouting fire in a crowded theatre” is a well known paraphrase of a U.S. Supreme Court decision which served as an example of the limitations on free speech when the speech is imminently dangerous and has no conceivable purpose. It’s clear that modern day law – and ethics - needs to recognize that good guys and bad guys can both use PR to utilize media without a filter. PR Firms, Twitter and modern day technologies are enabling terrorists to shout “fire in a crowded theatre”.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Jewish leader once said: “The work of the publicist is a legacy from the Prophets of Israel…Our passion is to speak, to proclaim—“Shouting” is what the same audience calls it, ‘we have no need for words, give us actions.’ One thing that audience forgets is that speech is also an action – Perhaps the most authentic of all other actions.”
Words are powerful - and can be used for good or bad. Terrorism won’t be stopped overnight – but one wonders if Saudi Arabia is prosecuting someone for providing PR support to terrorists, why is it that Twitter and American PR firms are allowed to continue doing the same thing?
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading US Public Relations Agency, and author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”