Is media hype helping the ISIS?

Displaced Iraqi women and children fleeing violence in Northern Iraq stand in line at a refugee centre near Arbil. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Do photos of ISIS militants spread fear among the Iraqi civilian population?

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Yesterday this blog included a photo of black-clad Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants to illustrate one of its posts. Did that action unwittingly help advance the cause of Sunni militants?

According to National Journal's Matt Berman, the answer is yes.

Who do the media think is helped when photos of masked ISIS forces preparing to execute Iraqi soldiers go viral, he asks.

The ISIS-provided pictures, he says, "were taken with the explicit purpose of being disseminated to as many people as possible, to create as much fear and spur as much sectarian violence as possible."

He writes that the western public is drawn to "disaster porn" - shocking photos of destruction and suffering - and the media have an incentive to give them what they want. Sometimes, he says, there is a beneficial effect.

"Sharing disaster porn - the digital equivalent of grabbing someone by the shoulder and saying, 'Stop, seriously, look at this' - is often an act of empathy," he says.

The ISIS photos, however, are different:

There's journalistic and social merit in spreading the evidence of what's happening in Iraq, but this particular evidence is manicured by the people who are carrying out the abuses. It's not journalism, and without verification, it's not even an accurate depiction of what's happening. It's propaganda, and it's playing on our empathy for distribution.

The ISIS' goal is to create an atmosphere of fear, he says, that will create an unstable Iraq that Sunni militants can use to their advantage.

Warfare has always had a public relations component. How actions are perceived by those not there can be as important as the actual tactical outcome of battles.

For instance the US public considered the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War as a victory for the Vietcong, despite the fact that the US prevailed in the individual encounters. The public relations victory from the campaign trumped the actual tactical outcome.

It's something that should give journalists pause, Berman concludes, as they rush to amass higher network ratings and page views.


Who gets credit for defeating the Nazis? - In 1945, most French people believed that it was the Soviets who were the most responsible for the Allied victory in World War Two, notes French blogger Olivier Burreyer. By 2004 a majority of the French credited the US for the defeat of the Germans.

According to Vox's Dylan Matthews, the French have been swayed by a successful US public relations campaign:

The case is pretty strong that the Soviet Union's successful resistance of Nazi invasion and subsequent reclamation of Eastern Europe was the most important of many crucial factors in defeating Germany.


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Media captionWesley Clark on ISIS threat

A Middle East launching pad against the US - The civil war in Syria is responsible for the current instability in Iraq, says former Nato Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

If ISIS-led Sunni militants are successful in holding onto their territorial gains, he says, it could put a "terrorist-based government at the very heart of this region".

If the ISIS threat is not confronted, he says, oil prices could rise and "there could be an opportunity for terrorists to build a real terrorist infrastructure" - and they could rely on oil revenues to finance their actions.

"You can't let this kind of murder go unchallenged," he says.


Disappearing Rwandans - There are a growing number of missing people in Rwanda, write novelist Lara Santor and Colgate University Prof Susan Thomson, giving rise to concerns the government is persecuting those dissenting views.

Although Rwanda has rebounded economically from the civil war and genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority, they write in the New York Times, "something unsettling is happening beneath this shiny surface".

The US and other western donor nations needs to "apply strong and sustained pressure", they write, and make aide conditional on a full accounting of those who have been "detained, apprehended or otherwise disappeared".


Polarising peace talks - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos's easy re-election victory on Sunday may boost his attempts to negotiate a peace agreement with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels, writes the Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

Despite Mr Santos's victory, however, the Colombian people are still sharply split over whether the president will be able to negotiate an acceptable deal.

"Mr Santos increasingly frames the conflict as a political disagreement between two morally equivalent forces in order to justify concessions to the guerrillas," she writes, which angers the president's political opponents and could even more sharply polarised Colombian public opinion on the matter.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian commentators react to the Kremlin's decision to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine.

"The gas war in Europe is unfolding in line with the worst possible conspiracy scenario. An attempt to twist Gazprom's arms yesterday [16 June] ended in the complete suspension of the Russia-Ukraine talks… Why does Kiev, who depends on gas imports and foreign financial aid, seek to step up the conflict?" - Madina Shavlokhova and Mikhail Sergeyev in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"The Ukrainian government is working on the tasks that were set by the United States. The first one is to disrupt gas supplies from Russia to Europe to make US producers more competitive on the global market. The second one is to ruin the economy and industry of the south-east of Ukraine, while presenting Russia as an aggressor and ensuring its political and economic isolation." - Rustam Tankayev of the Oil and Gas Industrialists Union in the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"The movie (or rather another episode of the drama) will end this winter. One cannot cancel winter." - Konstantin Simonov, head of the Russian National Energy Security Foundation, in Vedomosti. ‎

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