Experts: Media needs to focus on other terror groups, not only ISIS

Media professionals and observers debated whether ISIS is a brand built by the media and how to counter propaganda

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

Most militant groups in the world - especially those backed by Iran - do not receive media coverage due to the mainstream fixation on the brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, experts told an Al Arabiya English panel on Thursday.

Analysts at the two-day Al Arabiya News Global Discussions Forum, held in Dubai, debated whether ISIS and the media tend to feed off each other.

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American scholar and the president of the International American Council, said that militant groups funded by Iran did not receive enough attention from global news outlets.

“From my research, at least 25 percent of government-funded terror groups were funded or trained by Iran. That’s at least 60 or 70 groups which mostly are based in Syria and Iraq,” Rafizadeh said. So the question is, why doesn’t these groups get much attention from the media?”

‘ISIS is overrated’

Abeer al-Najjar, a professor of media studies at the American University of Sharjah, said that the media should be examined for its large amount of courage on ISIS.

“I wouldn’t put the whole blame on ISIS, I’d put a little bit of an examination on the role of the media,” she said.

“ISIS is doing a lot of service to the mainstream media because you have 24/7 news organizations and ISIS is feeding them with quick and exciting materials,” she added.

Caroline Faraj, vice president of Arabic services at CNN, defended media outlets, saying that not all news organizations were fueling the flames of ISIS propaganda.

“We [at CNN] are extra careful about attribution and what to take or not because we have a clear editorial strategy and standards of practices we abide by. And this is the same whether it’s for the English-speaking audience or that Arabic ones.”

Faraj noted the example of the militant group’s massacre of Egyptian Copts in Libya in February. She said that CNN took a decision by choosing to only show a still from the grisly execution video released by the group.

“We make sure that we don’t give them a platform to spread their messages,” she said.

Should the media censor ISIS?

During the panel discussion, the suggestion that outlets tone down their media coverage of ISIS turned a few heads, with fears from experts that any form of censorship would set a dangerous precedent.

“Restricting coverage will essentially mean people will know less about what ISIS is doing. It will therefore be much harder for our leaders to mobilize public opinion against them. This will also undermine our intelligence, military and financial aspects against them,” said Azeem Ibrahim, a fellow at the University of Oxford’s Mansfield College.

Najjar said that the media should go back to the “very original foundations of journalism.”

“The mainstream media has to go back to the very original foundations of journalism and work outside the influence of their financiers. They have to remember the social interest of their audiences and judge stories based on their news worthiness,” she said.