Let me provide one example of a relatively easy change to implement that would be hugely beneficial to any communications strategy aimed at debunking extremist propaganda. It has to do with retraining the media’s misunderstanding and continual misuse of Islamic terminology to report on terrorism. The mainstream media (as well as government officials) is often guilty of inaccurate and sometimes cringeworthy reporting of terrorist-related incidences. They sometimes use words and terminology that may seem innocuous because they have become so commonplace, but are actually counterproductive to any real effort to counter extremist rhetoric.
The most competent journalists will generally focus on areas of interest and specific issues that complement their expertise. These can include, but are not limited to, areas such as media, politics, policy, defence, and national security. Although I am unfamiliar with the internal workings of media companies and how a given journalist gets assigned what story, I do not think it would be too much of a stretch to place the right person in the right job—and keep them there. For instance, Australian political journalist and media commentator Laurie Oaks has worked in the Canberra Press Gallery since 1966. Mr. Oaks is the most established and credited journalist within this space, having forged a reputable and award-winning career spanning over four decades.
When Laurie talks, people listen. His nickname, “Sphere of Influence,” is a testament to this. His reporting comes from a wealth of knowledge, and is therefore almost always accurate. He doesn’t ignorantly misuse words, as this is his area of expertise. Quite simply, he wouldn’t have earned the credibility he has if he did. From a counterterrorism perspective, the indiscriminate use of certain words by media outlets actually feeds into and validates the exact propaganda that terrorist organisations are pushing out. It has the ability to not only undermine those within the Muslim community who also oppose extremists, but can reinforce the validation of others against the West in general.