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Abu Who? The Media, By Its Very Nature, Is Biased To One Degree Or Another

05 April 2015

By Tariq Alhomayed

One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq's central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen's chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning ''Father of Abdullah the Australian'' in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely ''the terrorist Jake Bilardi.'' Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?

Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn't the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.

Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the ''Islamic State'' or the ''Islamic State group.'' While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term ''militant'' or ''radical'' to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?

What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them ''Daesh''? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?

More than this, how can media outlets call this terrorist group the ''Islamic'' anything, when all Islamic authorities across the world have condemned, rejected and disowned it outright?

Also, why has the West failed to clamp down on terrorist groups' use of social media, particularly when they openly use these methods in such a brazen manner? At the same time, Western authorities are able to punish anyone who uses racist terms on social media, even when this heinous language is used in debates about something as innocuous as football.

I am not criticizing the West here, but rather directing my fire at certain Arab media outlets that serve the interests of these terrorists in their reporting, without realizing that their misplaced ''neutrality'' is actually harmful. The reality is that a crime is a crime, and there can be no bias towards terrorism and terrorists, whether they are Sunni, Shi'ite, or belong to any other denomination. There must be a clear media position towards terrorism and terrorists in order to ensure they cannot mislead our youth.

The media's mission is to inform the public, and to help shape public opinion. So the media always has a position on any given issue, however much any media outlet might like to deny this. We have seen the way terrorists have been able to dupe our media in the past and present to project a more sympathetic portrayal of themselves. One past example saw some Arab media outlets going along with the usage of the Abu Abdullah for Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. These same media outlets came out years later to say that they had made a mistake. But what about those who were affected by this mistake? Mistakes such as this contribute to the radicalization of some of our youth. So what about them?

Our duty today is to ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. We must address this issue and cut off any and all means through which these terrorist organizations are able to justify themselves or present a more sympathetic version of their heinous actions.

As such, how can we name a deluded teenager like Jake Bilardi Abu anything? This is patently ridiculous.

Tariq Alhomayed is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, the youngest person to be appointed that position. He holds a BA degree in Media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and has also completed his Introductory courses towards a Master's degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He is based in London. 

 

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