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Robert Cusack

Western media publish unverified story on IS retreat

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is rumoured to have ordered Islamic State fighters to retreat [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 1 March, 2017

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The Daily Mail, a far-right British tabloid, reported that IS leader al-Baghdadi ordered a major retreat, but did this actually happen and what are the consequences of unverified journalism?
"Fake news" is an old phenomenon in the Middle East - and Western journalists without Arabic skills are falling into its trap.

Due to a shortage of verifiable independent media, a security atmosphere that creates a tendency towards unnamed sources - and a huge volume of propaganda pushed through state-controlled media - it can be almost impossible to ascertain the truth at times.

Even with The New Arab's high standards, we have been known to make the occasional, regrettable mistake in such an environment where official on-the-record statements are thin on the ground. But we always make every effort to correct any errors, document changes and make suitable apologies.

recent article published by Julian Robinson for The Mail Online claimed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, had ordered a retreat of troops in northern Iraq's Nineveh province to the Iraqi mountains.

It is very likely that Baghdadi never made this declaration. It is possible that he may have done, but there is no evidence, written or otherwise, to back up the rumour.

Robinson wrote Baghdadi "ordered militants to either flee or kill themselves in suicide attacks", before wrapping his claim up in the convenient caveat, "it was claimed".

At the time of publication, the article has been shared 2,500 times and received more than 250 comments (which, in true Mail style, range from "Looks like a.ll.ah didnt help you guys out after all. Maybe hes secretly fighting for the West lol!" to "Soon to be at your local Job Centre trying to claim benefits").

The Mail's article references an al-Arabiyya article which quotes a Sumaria News article - which ultimately quotes one unnamed source. Neither article contains a journalist's byline.

Russia Today also reported the same story.

Standard journalist policy requires two verified sources to run a story - but this vital step was ignored here. 

Browsing through the usual IS presence on social media forums - Telegram, Twitter, even YouTube, there is no sign of any secondary evidence.

Fact-checking should lie at the heart of any good journalism - but too often it's nearly impossible to get the facts from the ground. This leads to a situation where journalists often quote stories from Middle Eastern outlets without checking the trustworthiness of that outlet.

Today's article is not a new and unfortunate event - Wikipedia editors voted in February to ban any Daily Mail article as a source, finding the outlet to be "generally unreliable".

A discussion board said this ban was "centred on the Daily Mail's reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism, and flat-out fabrication".

Robinson's article was shared widely on social media, yet none of the people who have commented underneath appear to be aware - or even to care - that its subject matter is dubious at best and completely fabricated at worst.

Neither the Daily Mail nor Julian Robinson responded to a request for comment.

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