by Rory Carson, contributor
“On Friday a decent, caring human being was murdered in cold blood. Our thoughts are with his family. He was killed, on camera, for the sole purpose of propaganda. Here is the news, not the propaganda.”
That was the headline from The Independent on Sunday 5th October, in the wake of Alan Henning’s brutal beheading at the hands of the terrorist organization known as Islamic State.
A deluge of images, videos and movies produced by ISIS have dominated the web since the organisation began its propaganda campaign back in June. But with their refusal to publish the images from Alan Henning’s beheading The Independent and The Sun, who both adopted a similar approach, fought back in the propaganda war being waged between IS and the rest of the world.
ISIS has presented Western media outlets with a difficult problem. Journalists and media co-operations have a responsibility to report the truth and inform the public. That includes reporting on atrocities, mass genocides and murders. However, this responsibility does not include giving oxygen to brutal, callous and dangerous terrorist organizations.
ISIS is responsible for arguably the most sophisticated propaganda campaign in history. They use various social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to promote their message of hate. This message manifests itself through various images, videos and movies streamed onto the Internet on a daily basis. They have a bank balance of an estimated £200 million and have invested it in producing professionally made videos, equipped with top-of-the-range graphics, logos and slow motion effects, depicting murders, bombings and declaration of war against Western countries. Videos and movies include French, German and English subtitles and directly target countries outside of the Middle East.
The only way Western media should respond is by following the example set by ‘The Independent.’ ISIS has three clear objectives: to create fear and terror throughout the world, to provoke a reaction from Western countries in the Middle East, and finally to entice new recruits to join their forces. All three are working. ISIS brutality is dominating Western consciousness, bombing has been ongoing in the Middle East by the United States and her allies for the past two weeks and citizens from countries involved in the bombings have departed to join ISIS forces. Every time media outlets publish links to videos or display images of ISIS fighters engaged in terrorist activities, they unwittingly aid ISIS. Therefore, The Independent’s and The Sun’s refusal to publish ISIS propaganda serves to limit the control and power they have over societies outside of the Middle East.
The other major problem with sharing this propaganda is that it makes them seem more powerful than they are. Yes, ISIS are a terrorist organization whose intent is to kill, but their support base is relatively small. Terrorism expert JM Berger suggests that ISIS carefully planned and coordinated strategy is designed to magnify the group’s message and make it look stronger than it really is. They have the same number of online supporters Jabhat al-Nusra, a relatively unknown branch of Al-Qaeda also active in Syria. With only an estimated 25,000 supporters, and noting the recent territory lost to the Kurds, it appears that they are not as ‘all-conquering’ as their propaganda suggests.
It remains clear that, despite their recent rise to prominence, the murderous reign of ISIS is not sustainable. In order to hasten its demise the press must follow the example set by ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Sun,’ and choose not to breathe life into terrorist organizations.