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Islamic State, one year on: The relationship between media and terrorist organisations must change

As we approach the one year anniversary of Islamic State’s so-called ‘Caliphate’, ISIL will be seeking to make itself appear as strong as ever.

Ruth Manning

ON FRIDAY MORNING a series of terrorist attacks occurred across three continents. In France an American owned gas and chemical factory was attacked, injuring two people, whilst a third was found decapitated outside the factory, his head on a fence beside two Islamic inscribed flags.

In Kuwait a deadly bomb attack occurred roughly an hour after the French incident. This explosion left 27 dead and over 300 injured when a suicide bomber, linked to a group affiliated with ISIL, detonated a bomb inside a Mosque packed with 2,000 Shia muslims.

The third attack occurred at approximately 11:00am GMT in a popular tourist resort north of Sousse in Tunisia. A gunman backed my ISIL pulled a Kalashnikov (automatic rifle) from his parasol and opened fire on the beach. Throwing explosives and shooting holidaymakers as they fled, leaving 38 dead, including three Irish citizens.

Sensationalist reporting on terrorist attacks benefits terrorists

Immediately speculation on social media and news channels went into overdrive; were these terrorist attacks a coordinated campaign by ISIL, or were they lone-wolf attacks?

Twitter feeds lit up with users sharing the latest updates whilst journalists scrambled to the scene to get first hand accounts of the attacks.

Unconfirmed reports began to be reported as facts, as audiences sat and watched footage of the attacks being repeated for hours on news channels.

The events on Friday act as a clear reminder that sensationalist reporting on terrorist attacks benefits terrorists. Not only does it publicise their agenda, but it also strengthens their support base by inflating their sense of strength as an organisation.

To feed the publics appetite for sensationalist stories more media sites are reporting on these events in a more salient style. Using techniques such as flashing imagery to enhance shock is ultimately deployed to enhance viewership. Not only does this create a divisive culture of fear but it promotes a narrow understanding of the issue.

Proof of this can be seen when CNN haphazardly reported that an ISIL flag had been spotted flying high “amongst a sea of rainbow colours” at London Gay Pride on Saturday. The sighting was discussed by CNN’s Lucy Peale who remained oblivious to the assortment of sexual devices imprinted on the flag, that were not in fact Islamic inscriptions. The “exclusive” segment, which was accompanied by imagery of the flag, flashed across CNN’s screen, providing a clear example of how news channels need to be more responsible when reporting on these events.

Starve these terrorists of the oxygen they so desperately crave

There is no doubt that terrorist activities should be reported in the media, however how these events are communicated to the public needs to change. Media channels need to depart from using provocative language and sensationalist rhetoric. Instead a more prudent style of reporting based on factual evidence should be used to educate the public.

As we approach the one year anniversary of Islamic State’s so-called ‘Caliphate’, ISIL will be seeking to make itself appear as strong as ever. In an attempt to cement their power and legitimacy, ISIL will be more active, most notably during the month of Ramadan. This means more violence and possibly more attacks directed at Western countries. However, the relationship between the media and terrorist organisations needs to be recognised and changed, to starve these terrorists of the oxygen they so desperately crave.

Ruth Manning works with a counter-extremism think tank in London. You can follow Ruth on Twitter @Ruth_Manning

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Ruth Manning

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