Egyptian media counter ISIL propaganda

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

An Egyptian soldier carries a child in Sinai in a photo distributed by the Egyptian Armed Forces as part of an effort to counter 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' propaganda. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Armed Forces]

An Egyptian soldier carries a child in Sinai in a photo distributed by the Egyptian Armed Forces as part of an effort to counter 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' propaganda. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Armed Forces]

The Egyptian media have been ramping up their coverage in the wake of recent deadly attacks on Christians, and can play an important role in the country's comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, journalists tell Al-Mashareq.

It is important that the Egyptian media play a strong role in exposing the lies of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), they said, noting that the group makes heavy use of its own media machine to perpetuate mistruths.

Through its media arm, ISIL attempts to portray itself as the most powerful force in Sinai, they said, while the reality on the ground is quite different.

Egyptian media must be careful to avoid perpetuating misconceptions, said Mohammed Abdul Rahman, editor in chief of Egyptian news website "E3lam".

Media outlets can play an important role in preventing extremist ideology from taking root by upholding the values of enlightenment and diversity, he told Al-Mashareq, noting that many voices in the media are not doing this.

"Some media outlets resort to exaggeration to gain new readers or increase their ratings, at a time when ISIL has managed to successfully project itself in the media in Syria and Iraq with Hollywoodish flair," he said.

This false glamourisation has helped ISIL with its recruitment efforts, he said, "while in contrast, unfortunately, not enough attention is given to the achievements of the Egyptian army in Sinai, for example".

Straightforward reporting

Media professional Adel Azmi works at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbasiya, which adjoins St. Peter and St. Paul Church, where a December 11th attack claimed by ISIL killed 25 people and injured 31 others.

He told Al-Mashareq it is easy to sow discord in communities with high rates of illiteracy, noting that "ISIL’s media have used the opportunity to inflate what it refers to as its achievements".

ISIL claims its terrorist attacks are condoned by God, he said, while in reality they are carried out by "a group of thugs who know nothing about religion".

It also portrays the sporadic attacks it has carried out in Sinai, many of which have harmed civilians, as "major wars against the Egyptian army", he said.

Egyptian media have countered this type of propaganda by covering "the events in al-Arish in a transparent manner without exaggeration or minimisation", Azmi said.

"Our media outlets were able to paint a realistic picture of the event and analyse it," he said.

Refuting ISIL's falsehoods

Egyptian media outlets have been changing the way they cover the terrorist attacks in and around the North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish, said Antar Abdul Latif, political editor for Sout al-Omma newspaper.

He praised the mainstream media for their "responsible" coverage of the recent exodus of Coptic Christians from al-Arish in the aftermath of ISIL attacks targeting their community.

Their coverage focuses on "refuting the lies of this terrorist group, which videotapes its attacks for propaganda purposes and uses sound effects, optical illusions and advanced production techniques", he told Al-Mashareq.

The group posts the videos it produces on its social media pages, he said, in order to attract new recruits, persuade its elements to remain steadfast and prevent their loyalty to it from being shaken.

Several media outlets have launched individual initiatives to try to help people understand the situation in Sinai, said Mohammed Hamed, a journalist and international law and international relations researcher.

They have interviewed Copts from al-Arish to expose the violations they have been subjected to at the hands of ISIL, he told Al-Mashareq.

"The Egyptian media became aware of the seriousness of the phase and the need to confront the terrorist media with counter media," he said.

The Egyptian media also played a major role in helping to uncover the perpetrator of the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul Church, he added.

Meanwhile, Hamed said, both broadcast and print media outlets have been interviewing the soldiers who fight ISIL in Sinai.

This type of coverage raises the morale of the soldiers fighting to protect their compatriots and shows that Egypt is in a real war against terrorism, he said.

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