The Broadcast Media's Portrayal of Modern Maritime Piracy

Open Access
Brill, Tamar Anna
Area of Honors:
Advertising/Public Relations
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Steve Manuel, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Susan Mary Strohm, Honors Advisor
  • Modern maritime piracy
  • Somali piracy
  • maritime terrorism
  • piracy
  • broadcast media
  • CNN
  • Fox
  • communications
  • political motive
  • economic motive
  • content analysis
  • multilateral collaboration
  • East Africa
CNN and Fox News report on maritime terrorism in the Western Indian Ocean with strikingly differing emphasis, potentially frustrating U.S. policy to mobilize public and allied support to address criminal maritime activity in this region. The broadcast media’s coverage of recent incidents of piracy or maritime terrorism influences the U.S. public’s perception of these events. Modern piracy in the form of maritime terrorism presents a serious military and commercial challenge to U.S. maritime interests. The U.S. was first exposed to piracy in April 2009 when four Somali pirates seized a U.S. vessel, Maersk Alabama, holding the captain hostage in exchange for a $1million ransom. While incidents of modern maritime hijackings in this region have both preceded and followed this incident, the seizing of a U.S. ship, taking an American captain as hostage and its successful conclusion, brought the hijackings to prominence in the U.S. media. Incidents have been reported in the broadcast media from the perspective of linking maritime terrorism to romantic terms of piracy. Do false images of the spunky Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean or Captain Blackbeard fog the reality of maritime terrorism and create a barrier to effective policy responses? This may prevent the public from gaining a clear understanding of the underlying problem of maritime terrorism. This study analyzes the broadcast media’s piracy coverage through a content analysis by noting token phases in the reporting. The broadcast media networks, CNN and Fox, are prominent global news networks representing opposing political views. The media networks’ contrasting coverage of piracy has implications on the public’s perception while in theory these networks profess to objective, realistic reporting of the threat of modern maritime piracy. As an engaged citizen and student of the media, I am concerned that the American public may be misguided by some of the broadcast media’s simplistic and somewhat inadequate descriptions of modern pirates, thereby providing a measure of justification of these incidents. A more in-depth and accurate reporting of maritime terrorism would lead, in my opinion, to a greater understanding of the seriousness of piracy. The long-term consequences of the U.S. and its Allies failing to react to the seriousness of this problem would likely result in more hijackings, ransom and death while raising the cost of ocean transport for all goods. It is therefore in the long-term interest of the U.S. government and public to understand this problem in its various dimensions through accurate reporting by the broadcast media, and address it before it becomes a larger, more intractable problem in the future.