Behind the media’s obsession with ISIS

Some terrorist groups attract a significant amount of media attention, while others receive little to none. For example, the predominant Western media outlets devote much coverage to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), while failing to raise awareness about Iranian-backed radical Shiite militias.

There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and ISIS: the organization receives the publicity it needs, and these networks increase their audiences and advertising revenue.

Groups such as the Iran-backed Kataib al-Imam Ali (KIA) use horrific tactics similar to ISIS. The KIA is known for showing videos of beheadings and burning bodies. Another violent militia is Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, which reportedly receives approximately $2 million a month from Iran.

The media seem to prefer simplicity to complexity. It is much easier to talk about ISIS than to research other terrorist and radical groups.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Easier to report on ISIS

The media seem to prefer simplicity to complexity. It is much easier to talk about ISIS than to research other terrorist and radical groups. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of reporters are not knowledgeable about the dangers these groups pose. Discussing the KIA or Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq requires an understanding of the political set-up in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, as well as the links between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other political groups.

While ISIS works hard to gain media attention, and is adept at utilizing social media, Iran-backed militias conduct stealth attacks while denying responsibility. Their ultimate goal is to enter the political establishment of the state and inform decision-making from the top. Hezbollah succeeded at this in Lebanon, and Iran-backed Shiite militias have done the same in Iraq.

Some media outlets view these militias as legitimate because they are funded by a state (in this case Iran). Many of these groups report directly to General Soleimani or Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, if they commit a violent act, they are less likely to be harshly criticized.

Indeed, media outlets are driven by a need to make a profit in order to survive as organizations. They write about topics that people are focused on, in order to attract a high number of readers and, in turn, advertisers. ISIS attracts global media interest partly because it targets people outside the Middle East. Many Americans and Europeans feel that if an organization can carry out attacks in Paris, London, or cause mass shootings – as seen in San Bernandino – then they can commit these terrorist attacks anywhere.

Nonetheless, it is important that media outlets make more of an effort to highlight lesser-known terrorist groups and the atrocities they commit.

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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @MajidRafizadeh

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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