This week, Ghana’s mainstream media has been excited about a story on the Salafi Jihadist extremist militant group known as ISIL or ISIS or Simply IS. While this article is a caution piece, I wish it remains one of the last of such reports on this extremist group in our country.
Though one may not be successful in declaring a media ‘fatwa’ or blackout on IS in Ghana, it will be preferable if such stories are sanctioned or in line with efforts of our security agencies. The reasons for signaling this restraint are explained below.
While many a concerned citizen may argue that it is important to cover the story of IS in Ghana, I hold a different view. It is imperative that all of us, including our media houses, defer discretion on the matter to the security agencies while it is nascent. Whatever news that is released about the group must be done with some approval or guidance from our intelligence agencies.
One may ask why such a strict restriction on airing local developments on this group. Well, this is simply because of the very unorthodox manner in which they wreck their sort of terror. There is one fundamental fact that most miss about the Modus Operandi of IS, which must be brought to the fore. Unlike other terror camps, this group thrives on media attention. In fact, their source of oxygen is media coverage.
This is the only terror group that has experts dedicated to producing and editing their heinous acts in video to newsworthy standards. They love being in the news. As such, what do you think will be their disposition when they realize that they are seriously trending in Ghana?
Some argue that it is important to announce their presence and thus prevent people from joining their fronts. I beg to differ. If you look at the psychology of it, giving pronounced media attention to the likes of IS does not necessarily preclude persons so inclined from joining per se, it rather brings to their attention the possibility that they can reach out to such a group even from Ghana. After all, if some of their nationals have been accepted into the fronts of the ‘Holy War’, why not them? Such an approach only tolls the bell to them clearly that IS is accessible even where they are.
Essentially, I don’t think the obstacle to willing recruits is the lack of information on the group. Rather, it must be access and acceptability. Secondly, it isn’t media reportage that effectively curtails the operations of terrorist groups. It is the dedicated work of security forces. It must clearly be noted that, just knowing about IS is one thing. Announcing that IS is here in Ghana and is recruiting is another – both have very different effects and consequences.
It will be counterproductive therefore to claim that media coverage in Ghana will educate Ghanaians on the dangers of IS. This does not hold much credence since it does not require such megaphone reports on local incidents for anyone to know what IS stands for and what they do.
It is my view that we cannot tow the line of giving this group massive publicity and be successful at hindering them. This is based on the benefit of hindsight from the dedicated coverage of the group by western media. If you observe critically, there is an uncanny direct correlation between the number of IS recruits from countries where the media has granted them unfettered coverage. Their use of the likes of Jihadi John as a poster child for their atrocities should drive home this point.
Once again, it must be reiterated that for a group that salivates on media attention, we’re better served blacking them out of our media space while relying on the guidance of the security agencies on the next steps, than just splashing them on the front pages.
It would have been apt to talk of exposing acts of terror via media; that is if we were talking about terrorism in general. But this particular group has rendered that approach of media attack on their front obsolete – In fact, they bask in the media limelight and have turned it around as a tool in their favour. It is a fact that media sensationalism has never deterred this group no more than it has strengthened them.
At this early stage, I believe we require more of security work than media sensationalism on this rather delicate issue. It is also instructive to note that, not all credible stories are allowed to be churned out in jurisdictions where the security is on top of their game. In some instances, for the sake of national security and to prevent interference with the work of the agencies, some of these stories are held back temporarily until clearance is given. Is that the case in Ghana? Are there any regulated and fluid working links between our intelligence agencies and the media? If not, then this is the time; one and all, including our media houses must rather be feeding the agencies with pieces of information to help them in intelligence profiling. This I believe will be more helpful than just breaking such news for effect.
However you look at it, I do not see how Ghana will benefit if our media goes agog with branding our nation as a source of IS recruits. Is the purpose only to a journalistic end? What happens to the bigger picture of our outlook in the comity of nations? What is the official position of our national security apparatus on the matter? Please let’s think on these things…