Why is the media inconsistent in naming the terror group that attacked Paris?

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By Kathy English for the Toronto Star

ISIS? ISIL? IS? Islamic State, Daesh? How do we name terror today?

It is not surprising that media audiences – and journalists – around the world are expressing confusion about the many iterations of the name of the terrorist organization that struck Paris last week, killing 129 people and injuring many others.

Throughout the globe, both media organizations and politicians themselves refer to this terrorist group by various labels, a result of complex geopolitical sensitivities connected to translation questions, the genesis of the organization and its own efforts last year to rename itself as the “Islamic State.”

Most major news organizations, like the Toronto Star, have adopted style guidelines that determine how they will write and speak about this group. Such style guidelines are in-house edicts intended to create consistency throughout the news organization and clarity for readers.

But, following an email discussion this week among global news ombudsmen, public editors and readers’ editors who belong to the Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO), it is clear to me that worldwide – and even within Canada — there is considerable inconsistency in how we refer to this group of terrorists.

The Star, in line with the current style of most international news organizations and wire services, now refers to the “Islamic State group” or “Islamic State militants.”

In headlines, that can be shortened to “ISIS” — the short form of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. That is the name the group was widely known by until June 2014, when it declared a new “Islamic caliphate” and called itself the “Islamic State,” a move characterized by the media as an attempt to “rebrand” itself.

To read the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star’s website, where it first appeared.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at hgwatson.com.