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News organisations should ignore Islamic State propaganda or clearly tag it as such in TV broadcasts, according to upcoming research on the group’s manipulation of western media.


The paper, to be released next week by Australia’s Lowy Institute thinktank, argues that Isis has exploited the difficulty of reporting independently from Syria and Iraq, and shown a deep understanding of the media industry, to significantly shape its coverage in western press.


“They are aware of the news cycle and what is newsworthy, and will tailor their material to the principles of newsworthiness,” the research’s author Lauren Williams, a freelance journalist and former senior editor at Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, said in Sydney on Tuesday.


“Islamic State has been able to exert significant control over the way in which they are depicted and the way in which they are perceived.”


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She said lately news outlets had become better at recognising the slick footage Isis pumps out is designed to be run in western news broadcasts “and have taken some steps to mitigate that”.


Some French television producers, for example, had started clearly tagging Isis-produced videos they aired as “propaganda”.


She said ideally media organisation should ignore Isis videos, tweets and print publications, but the reality was that “it’s a commercial media market where the appetite for Islamic State stories is enormous”.


She suggested coverage of the group’s output be paired with experts debunking or contextualising any claims, something that would require greater cooperation from security and government agencies.


Disillusioned returnees from Isis-controlled territory should also be used for their propaganda value, she said.



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Williams argued that Isis content largely focused on the three themes of persecution, brutality and utopianism.


“Utopianism is starting to replace the brutality content,” she said. “Pictures of Islamic State as a functioning society, where things are running in order, where there’s effective government, effective policing, a happy place away from the images of war.”


One example was the April video featuring South Australian doctor Tareq Kamleh, who extolled the medical care offered by the group and urged other Muslim doctors to join him.


The full research will be released next week.