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May 3, 2012 5:07 pm

The Saudis Seem to Know it – Why Don’t We?

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Deputy Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Naim Kassim, Beirut. Photo: Sebastian Beyruli.

In an interesting story, a special Saudi Arabian criminal court on Sunday began a trial in which one of the defendants is charged with, amongst other counts, providing public relations support to terrorists. The criminal charges being faced: “utilizing media to support terrorism and publishing inflammatory statements on a number of electronic sites.”  One wonders, if Saudi Arabia is charging people in criminal courts 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 applications for public relations services but a justified cause is not enough to be right these days, either in politics or in business. Preparation for any conflict inevitably includes a PR battle plan, and the bad guys seemingly get this.

Terrorists and their supporters continue to use modern day PR and communications tools and are increasingly skilled at doing so.

Hamas, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State in April 1993 tweets regularly here.  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 at their very active twitter account here. 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.

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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 and airs programs “designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.” They continue to tweet here.

Hezbollah tweets regularly from the al-Manar News account, with over 11,000 followers. A recent english-language tweet links to a story on Al-Manar News headlined: “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 like Hamas and Hizbullah have also hired PR agencies to lobby for them in the press and on the world stage.

This serves as an example of how the democratization of the media can be used for good and for bad. With these modern day technological changes, it’s a scary coincidence that in the very same week that there is a (what I believe to be the 1st) trial of an individual being prosecuted for providing PR support to terrorists, Israel has launched Google Street View. In a country where military headquarters and the Prime Minister’s residence needed to be blurred out on the Google images for security reasons one can understand concerns over the possibility of terrorists using 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 theater” is a U.S. Supreme Court decision which served as an example of the limitations on free speech, when what is said is imminently dangerous and has no conceivable purpose. It’s clear that modern day lawmakers need to recognize that because both good guys and bad guys can both utilize PR and media platforms without a filter, PR Firms, Twitter and modern day technologies are being allowed to enable terrorists to shout “fire in a crowded theater”.

Terrorism won’t be stopped overnight but one wonders if there is something to be learned from Saudi Arabia in prosecuting someone for providing PR support to terrorists. Twitter and American PR firms should not be allowed to continue causing this damage.

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.”

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