International policy organisation The Lowy Institute has cautioned Western media outlets – including those in Australia – to be wary of propaganda from so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
The report from author Lauren Williams – which you can read here – outlined the issues surrounding how the western media report on Islamic State; how media outlets often use the group’s own content, how governments have focused on eradicating the social channels from group members, but ignored how the media uses them in reporting and the various policies some media companies have put in place in reporting on the group’s activities.
In the executive summary, Williams said due to the dangers of sending journalists to the country, the media often relies on releases and news from the group itself.
And “the group’s propaganda is often unwittingly used by the mainstream media in ways that serve Islamic State’s objectives”.
Because the group uses media to recruit members it’s even more pertinent the media takes caution.
“Counter-messaging efforts need to take place through the mainstream media as well as social media,” wrote Williams.
“The mainstream media also has a responsibility to treat Islamic State’s material more critically, including by providing more contextual coverage of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and using less sensationalist or polarising rhetoric when it discusses terrorism.
“The adoption of better standards and practices can help the mainstream media to limit the appeal of Islamic State propaganda in ways that do not detract from media independence and the public’s right to know.”
She said more so than other group Al Quaeda, Islamic State “has enlisted the Western media as a chief disseminator of its propaganda”.
And as much of the group’s dissemination of news comes from social media, Williams says the role of the mainstream media and the use of social platforms within mainstream media has meant governments have focused on the social media channels, not the mainstream media using them.
“Traditional media outlets have a responsibility and an opportunity to frame the public’s interpretation of Islamic State more objectively, to expose the weaknesses of its narratives, and to take a more critical view of its military and other claimed successes,” she continued.
“Traditional media can also be harnessed as an effective platform for counter-messaging.
“Unwittingly, the Western media has become an accomplice to Islamic State’s aims. Indeed, the process is somewhat self-perpetuating: driven by fear and fascination the public demands ever more news on the group and its activities.”
Williams noted one news editor told her the use of the group’s content in stories was because of the lack of journos on the ground and the high quality of the content.
However, she added many media outlets have established in-house policies for reporting on the group, such as labelling it as a propaganda, omitting graphic content or not airing it at all.
“Nonetheless, editorial policies have largely been ad hoc and to date there is no standard set of guidelines on how to cover and report on terrorist activities. Moreover, most media outlets have commercial imperatives and the reality is that sensational news about Islamic State sells newspapers and advertising.”