Strengthening Arab Media: Countering Terrorist Influence in the Digital Age

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Arab countries are aiming to upgrade a joint media strategy to maintain pace with the actions of terrorist groups and how they manage to exploit the media, especially digital media, to communicate their extremist ideas. Last year, on a March 12 meeting scheduled by Kuwait’s Ministry of Communications on the sidelines of the 16th session of the Arab Information Ministers Council, a gathering of media experts explored new media strategies to fight terrorism and extremism.

They are concerned with the “Joint Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism” and how it can be revised amid media innovations. The strategy was authorised by the General Secretariat of the Arab League and developed by the Riyadh-based Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) in 2015. The updates to the Arab media strategy concentrate on adopting policies that take into understanding the new technological developments on social media amid the endeavours by terrorist groups, guided by the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), to utilise these means to spread their ideology and attract potential recruits.

The strategy suggests the development of “Arab cultural awareness” that abandons terrorism in all its forms and incarnations in order to protect Arab countries against extremist scope, fake news and deceptive information on the internet. During the meeting, representatives examined the development of an Arab strategy to fight terrorism. NAUSS Vice President for External Relations Khaled al-Harfash said the university is keen to develop strategies to combat terrorism using studied techniques and scientific programmes and activities. NAUSS has inaugurated a provincial centre to counter terrorism and organised crime, he stated, adding that he hopes this will donate to Arab and international efforts in this regard.

Security analyst Safaa al-Aasam declared ISIS has extensively manipulated the media to influence audiences around the world. Before the beginning of the war against ISIS in 2014, the group expended millions of dollars on intensive internet activity through skilful video production, he said. “At the time, the terrorist range capitalised on sectarian tension and on inciting sectarian conflicts to win over followers of the takfiri ideology.” “However, since the orientation of the truth about the terrorists as simply bloodthirsty people who cannot be relied on, and their defeat in battle, their media acceleration and their ability to mislead have fallen,” al-Aasam said.

The media strategy suggests that there be close cooperation among appropriate government agencies, and between the media and civil society associations, to “produce proactive media content to fight terrorism and highlight the danger of extremist ideology”. It also advises making efforts to prevent terrorist groups from giving their messages or from attracting public attention and to direct the media response to the scope of terrorist attacks to confirm that they are not somehow glorified. Another suggestion is that the media give more coverage to security services’ efforts to combat terrorism.

The strategy also highlights the importance of training in media security to maintain the skills of journalists and analysts who monitor and follow terrorist activities and their propaganda methods and are curious about implementing ways to counter them. It also suggests the establishment of an Arab fund to support training initiatives and plans.

“The media’s battle against terrorists must continue with greater significance through trained and qualified individuals who maintain sufficient skills to keep up with and catch any terrorist activity,” al-Aasam stated. ISIS has altered its tactics, and has shifted from using sectarian tensions and media technologies to concentrating on using money to recruit the poor, despite the extreme lack of funding it suffers from today, he stated. In the fight against ISIS, it is necessary to “strip terrorists of their means to control [audiences] by monitoring and exposing their religiously and purely unacceptable ideas and practices”, he stated.

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