Dealing with propaganda produced by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) is a major headache for any newsroom. If a hostage is beheaded then that’s a news story. It cannot be ignored. But Isis is not merely murdering Westerners: It has built an entire strategy around its made-for-TV killings.
The MO is clear. With each one it tries to make the process resemble some sort of judicial exercise. The charges are laid out against Obama and Cameron in the first video, when the next victim is revealed. A week, 10 days, a fortnight later and the judgement is delivered and punishment imposed.
As this thoughtful piece, by Lina Khatib, points out, the recent slew of family appeals for compassion has made no impact…
The beheading of Alan Henning on the eve of the Eid al-Adha holiday, despite a widespread campaign emphasising his respect for Islam, should be a wake-up call to those who assume that IS might be swayed by calls for compassion.
A more fruitful approach may be to call for defiance, undermining the claims for legitimacy by Isis.
But what then for the media? How best to handle what appears not to be a murder campaign so much as a propaganda campaign? The piece goes on to call on the media essentially to black out coverage.
Only when IS begins to see that hostage-taking is no longer an effective political and propaganda tool will the current wave of beheadings begin to wane.
Maybe. But no serious news organisation can ignore a murder. And I suspect the wave of beheadings will end only when they run out of victims.