The Islamic State, the extremist group that has wreaked havoc in Syria and Iraq, is perhaps best known in the West for its violent behavior toward journalists. The executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff are widely regarded as the catalyst that spurred U.S. and allied strikes against the group, for example.
However, the group does offer a more complicated vision of international media. Vice News was able to film its remarkable view of life under the Islamic State in Raqqah, Syria, with apparent cooperation from the extremists. “These are managed trips, so you are there with their permission,” Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice’s head of news programming in Europe, explained to the Huffington Post. “While they are, to some extent, keeping you safe ... you are also an interloper.”
Now, Syria Deeply, an independent news site that focuses on the Syrian conflict, has published a list of rules that it says have been given to journalists in the Islamic State-controlled region of Deir al-Zour, Syria. The list was sent to Syria Deeply by "Amer," a local journalist who stayed in the city after the Islamic State took over. Amer told Syria Deeply that the rules were sent to him by the Islamic State's media office.
Among the rules are orders that journalists must pledge allegiance to the Islamic State:
1 - Correspondents must swear allegiance to the Caliph [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi ... they are subjects of the Islamic State and, as subjects, they are obliged to swear loyalty to their imam.
Journalists are also told that they will have to check in with the Islamic State's media office:
5 - Journalists are allowed to cover events in the governorate with either written or still images without having to refer back to the ISIS media office. All published pieces and photos must carry the journalist’s and photographer’s names.
6. Journalists are not allowed to publish any reportage (print or broadcast) without referring to the ISIS media office first.
And social media is acceptable but will be monitored.
7 - Journalists may have their own social media accounts and blogs to disseminate news and pictures. However, the ISIS media office must have the addresses and name handles of these accounts and pages.
You can read all 11 rules at Syria Deeply.
Given the Islamic State's modus operandi, these rules, while obviously extremely restrictive, are not necessarily surprising. Perhaps most surprising to Western viewers would be that the major international news agencies are tolerated but that satellite news is a no-go. Al-Arabiya, Al Jazeera and Orient are described as "channels that fight against Islamic countries," and journalists are forbidden from working with them, probably because of their respective owners (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Syria, all of which are fighting the Islamic State).
The rules appear to be addressing local journalists, and for most Western reporters it remains untenable to visit Islamic State-controlled territory. "Reuters journalists are unable to visit the area for security reasons," one Reuters report on Raqqah noted in September. When the New York Times reported from Raqqah, it declined to name the writer, instead referring to the reporter as "an employee of the New York Times."
The rules offer a rare glimpse of how the Islamic State, the extremist group, would like to become the Islamic State, a functioning state with its own rules and laws. Earlier this summer, militants from the Islamic State released a list of rules for life in Nineveh, Iraq: Citizens were warned that thieves would face amputations, and that graves and shrines were now banned. The Islamic State later issued strict rules for education in Raqqah, which the Wall Street Journal noted included the banning of all mentions of the word "Syria."