More than three years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, which is also known as ISIS) captured the Syrian city of Raqqa and declared it the capital of its "caliphate".

Images that emerged from the city, of atrocities used as propaganda, have been some of the most gruesome and distressing media output to emerge from a war that continues to cause untold suffering.

When the Syrian Democratic Forces finally rolled into al-Naim Square, Western journalists travelling with them told a story of triumph and liberation.

The story that gets told, however, depends on who is telling it.

In terms of mainstream US media, Raqqa was couched in the language of victory, in the language of fighting terrorism, and there's very little awareness of the fact that in the end Syria is being destroyed, and allied forces are continuing the destruction that the regime has started.

Bassam Haddad, co-editor, Jadaliyya

Consider the difference between how the fall of Raqqa has been covered, by various news organisations, compared with how they reported the fall of Aleppo 15 months ago.

Aleppo had been held by Syrian opposition forces, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Raqqa was in ISIL's hands. The bombs dropped on Aleppo were Russian, clearing the way for Syrian government troops. Those targeting Raqqa were American, and the ground forces were led by Kurdish fighters.

On the Aleppo story, the bulk of the questions about civilian casualties, the deaths of innocent victims, came from Western media. With Raqqa, the same kinds of questions are being asked by the other side.

"Mainstream media narratives are ideologically driven," explains Christa Salamandra, professor of anthropology at The City University of New York. "I think that much of the American media was supporting the American government's goals in Raqqa, which were to uproot ISIL."

"In terms of mainstream US media, Raqqa was couched in the language of victory, in the language of fighting terrorism, and there's very little awareness of the fact that, in the end, Syria is being destroyed, and allied forces are continuing the destruction that the regime has started," says Bassam Haddad, co-editor, Jadaliyya.

Meanwhile, the Russian media was concerned with "who is responsible for what happened in Raqqa," says Omar al-Ghazzi, assistant professor of Media, LSE. "If you look at Syrian media, it has not been a main story on Syrian national TV, for instance. But if we just talk about the visuals of the media, what you see now is Kurdish fighters with Kurdish flags, dancing in the main square of Raqqa. The Syrian national TV is focusing on battles that are happening in Deir Az Zor because the Syrian army is more active in that area."

Syria's civil war has been called the most documented war ever. The parties involved - American, Russian, Turkish, Iranian, Saudi, Qatari and, of course, Syrian - all come with media outlets attached. They can all be part of the machinery.

Truth can be a casualty of that - and the enemy can become an accidental beneficiary.

Contributors:
Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa programme, Chatham House
Omar Al Ghazzi, assistant professor of Media, LSE
AbdAlaziz Alhamza, cofounder, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently
Christa Salamandra, professor of anthropology, The City University of New York
Bassam Haddad, co-editor, Jadaliyya

Source: Al Jazeera