Getting the balance right on ISIL videos

Why does Al Jazeera English not use material produced by group’s PR machine? Because it is the responsible thing to do.

It is interesting to observe how the coverage of this week’s killing of American Peter Kassig has been handled very differently by different international media organisations.

Previously, images from videos posted online by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) showing detainees in distress – such as Steven Sotloff, James Foley and Alan Henning – were splashed across newspaper front pages and employed in news bulletins.

This time, with Kassig, the approach seems to have been different. And one that we at Al Jazeera English have advocated all along. We have not used any images, not even stills, from any of the beheading videos.

As an international broadcaster, our main concern is always the value of the information we put on air. An important part of that process are the images we select to illustrate a story.

Often we will leave more out than we include: this is a vital part of the editing process. It is no easy feat to get the balance right between editorial value, taste and decency.

When we got word that ISIL had murdered US journalist Steven Sotloff and posted the video on the web, the first question was: Can we access, and verify, it?

As soon as we did that, the next step was to start explaining the circumstances of his death to our viewers.

Logical decision

For us, with our extensive coverage of multiple ongoing Middle East conflicts in general and the brutal, self-publicising nature of ISIL in particular, it was a logical decision consistent with our editorial direction not to air footage of Steven’s final moments.

ISIL is unlike anything we have seen before. It has a sophisticated PR machine and regularly uploads professionally produced videos showing the murder and torture of people that do not conform to its interpretation of religious law.

We have documented the brutality of ISIL’s expansion across Syria and Iraq in great detail without relying on its propaganda machine.

Although we regularly analyse the causes and effects of the group’s actions, we find little editorial value in aiding its perception of notoriety, so broadcast only sparingly the material it produces.

I hope other media outlets who used images and footage from ISIL videos are now following our lead. It is the responsible thing to do.

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