Countering Violent Extremism through Media and Communications Strategies

Countering Violent Extremism through Media and Communications Strategies

World Travel and Communications recorded on Twitter - Eric Fischer. Creative Commons Licence: Attribution

A new report commissioned by the Partnership sheds light on how far media and communications can help to counter violent extremism from groups such as the so-called Islamic State.

The report challenges claims that the “counter-narrative” approach to tackling violent extremism is working, and suggests that alternative media strategies could be effective, as long as information providers have trust and credibility.

Through a research placement with the BBC development charity, BBC Media Action, and a literature review, the report’s author Dr Kate Ferguson made a number of key findings.

In examining the policy communication strategies and counter-propaganda techniques known as ‘counter-narratives’,  Dr Ferguson found that:

  • Current literature and policy concerned with countering propaganda is dominated by the language of ‘counter-narratives’ but there is as yet no common understanding of this term.

  • There is little hard evidence to prove that interaction with violent extremism propaganda leads to participation in violent extremism.

  • The hypothesis that the real life threat of violent extremism can be countered by an alternative set of communications is an assumption that remains unproven. 

Dr Ferguson argues that these findings challenge claims that responding to propaganda strategies by firing back with ‘counter-narrative’ can be effective.

 Her report goes on to look at alternative approaches to the use of the media to counter violent extremism, drawing on insights from the “media development” and “media assistance” sectors, and research into whether mass media and new communication interventions can inhibit violent extremism in certain crisis situations. Her key findings include:

  • The theoretical foundations for these alternative approaches are supported by an established research base, drawn from the multi-disciplinary fields of development, peace building and social cohesion.

  • Media projects have less impact if seen to be linked to a political agenda.

  • A growing evidence base suggests that radio and television drama addressing issues of identity, reconciliation and tolerance have a positive impact on public attitudes and behaviour.

  • Media assistance can ensure that local and domestic media can respond appropriately to violent extremism narratives.

Dr Ferguson concludes that these findings suggest that alternative media strategies can help, but that the trust and credibility of information providers is crucial.

Read the full report:

Countering Violent Extremism Through Media and Communication Strategies