Islamic State, ISIS or Daesh? Journos debate name at Arab Media Forum

‘It’s not a state and it’s not a representation of Islam’, says AFP’s global news director

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Debate over how the media should refer to ISIS continued on Wednesday at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai – with one newswire chief saying the group was neither truly ‘Islamic’ nor a ‘state’.

Several news organisations have shunned the term ‘Islamic State’ when referring to the extremist group, with some using ‘ISIS’ or the Arabic name ‘Daesh’.

Michèle Léridon, the global news director at Agence France Presse (AFP)
Michèle Léridon, the global news director at Agence France Presse (AFP)

Michèle Léridon, the global news director at Agence France Presse (AFP), explained her company’s decision to refer to it as the “Islamic State group” or “organisation”, and as "IS jihadists" in headlines and news alerts.


“It’s not a state and, according to us, it’s not a representation of Islam,” she said at the Arab Media Forum (AMF).

“We thought it was important to specify that it was the name of an organisation,” she added. “It’s not the name of a state, even if they control a large part of a territory.”

Léridon said in September that AFP had decided no longer to use the expression ‘Islamic State’, which is how the jihadist movement refers to itself.

“The Arabic acronym for the group’s full original name, Daesh, while used by some governments including France, is hard for most readers to relate to,” Léridon wrote.

She told delegates at the Arab Media Forum that it was still important to make the distinction.

“It’s our responsibility… to explain what is happening in the Middle East,” she said.

Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya News, was moderating the panel discussion at the AMF.

He turned to fellow panel member Roger Cohen, a prominent columnist at the New York Times.

Cohen agreed that the so-called Islamic State – or ‘ISIS’ as this website refers to it – is “neither a state nor represents Islam.”

He said that he had heard the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling ISIS both “the organisation calling itself Islamic State” and “Daesh”.

Cohen added: “Nobody knows what to call this organization; we all know what it does. And that is the essential thing.”

Abbas asked Cohen if the media had “double standards” in reporting on certain groups.

“Why is that if you insult Jews you anti-Semitic, if you insult blacks, you are racist, but a lot of people seem to be OK with insulting Muslims?,” asked Abbas.

Cohen said there were “some grounds to have concerns” about double standards in the media.

He went on to assert the absolute right to free speech – even if it involved something deemed offensive to Muslims.

“Personally, I am a free-speech absolutist. I think it is outrageous to deny the Holocaust. But should it be punishable by prison term or by fine? No, I don’t think so,” he said.

He added that, in his view, free speech applies to Islam just as it does everything else.

“To say in the West that this is off limits, it cannot be criticized, it cannot be mocked, it cannot be caricatured, I personally disagree with that,” Cohen said.

“We in the West have the freedom to speech, we have freedom to blaspheme, if we want to caricature this movement, mock it, that is our right.”

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