Wednesday September 17, 2014

Former hostage Amanda Lindhout says airing videos of ISIS murdering captives gives extremists exactly what they want

Listen 27:30
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Amanda Lindhout's own experience as a hostage has disturbing parallels to those held captive by ISIS today. And like the jihadists who produce videos of beheadings, the Islamic extremists who held her in Somalia also sought attention through seemingly irresistible media baiting. So how culpable is the media, mainstream and social, in what's unfolding? Are we keeping the public informed or playing into deadly propaganda?

Islamic State militants kidnapped U.S. journalist James Foley, killed him and made a video of the murder. Then the extremists made videos of at least two more decapitations. Journalists anguished over the pictures. Broadcasting the suffering serves the ISIS propaganda. But the videos also reveal the kind of war -- and the kind of combatant -- wrecking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

Amanda Lindhout has a unique perspective on the unfolding crisis. In 2008, she was a freelance journalist hoping to cover the ugly war inside Somalia. She was taken prisoner and held for 460 days. Ms. Lindhout recalled the ordeal in her best-selling book A House in the Sky.

As part of our ongoing, Eye on the Media, Amanda Lindhout joined us from Calgary.


Here at the CBC we have our own policy on covering this story. David Studer, our director of Journalism Standards and Practices, told us that CBC News has given time and space to coverage of the incidents in question because in the global context of events in Syria and Iraq, they were unquestionably newsworthy.

In determining the content of our coverage, CBC News has tried to balance three competing needs: giving our audience the information they need, respecting the dignity of the victims, and resisting efforts by ISIS to manipulate the media for its own purposes. So, we have avoided showing the actual beheadings. And we have avoided both coerced statements from the victims and inflammatory rhetoric from the ISIS member involved.

If there are future incidents, CBC News will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.


ISIS may be incomprehensibly violent, but it's also extremely knowledgeable about western media. There may be more videos and broadcasters will need to make more difficult decisions.

  • Tony Burman is a former director of the Al Jazeera English Network and before that he was the head of CBC news. He is currently a visiting professor of journalism at Ryerson University.
  • Romayne Smith Fullerton is an associate professor of Information and Media Studies at the Western University. She is also the ethics editor for the online journalism magazine, JSource.


What do you think? Should mainstream media stop the coverage?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.