Television

Scoops, snark and jihad – this is Vice News's war

A new television insurgent has provided the most compelling coverage of Isis so far

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

War can reshape the medium of television. The First Gulf War was a landmark moment in broadcasting: CNN had reporters in Baghdad when the first bombs fell, no one else did, America was riveted and the concept of 24-hour news (accompanied by thousands of graphics) suddenly took off. And now, just as a third conflict kicks off in Iraq, we have a new television insurgent: Vice News, which is shaking up war reporting with its extraordinary coverage of the jihadis tearing up Syria and Iraq. The idea of watching television made by a magazine seems bizarre — or, at least, it did this time last month. Vice started life as a provocative publication. It was dubbed the ‘hipster’s bible’, but underneath all the snark, Vice had big plans. Funding began to drip in, and, before long, it started to flood. Last year Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox poured $70 million into Vice Media, aiming to make it a global news brand — producing television for a generation that doesn’t watch television in the traditional way.

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Photo: Medyan Dairieh/VICE News

The result is Vice News’s astonishing internet footage of life behind enemy lines. The Vice reporter Medyan Dairieh was embedded with Isis as it took control of the city of Raqqa in Syria. This unprecedented access has been broadcast online as a five-part mini-series over the past week, ten minutes each, leaving the rest of the West’s media clambering to catch up. The BBC admitted defeat, and broadcast Vice’s immersive footage on Newsnight, while the Daily Mail interviewed Dairieh. A safer option, they must have sensed, than sending one of their own reporters out to join the jihadis. With scoop after scoop, Vice is making other television reports from the Middle East and Ukraine look hackneyed. Its videos may fail every rule in the BBC impartiality book, but they are brilliantly edited and, often, utterly compelling. Vice News has found young, fearless foreign correspondents to serve a youthful audience who are bored stiff by traditional outlets but are quite prepared to watch videos on their mobile phones.

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Photo: Medyan Dairieh / VICE News


You get the sense that Dairieh’s film shows Isis in the way that they’d like to be portrayed. Crucifixions, kids brandishing Kalashnikovs, beheadings, joy-riding in tanks — the documentary veers between the terrifying and the absurd. Vice won’t say what restraints Isis imposed on them, but the experience of other journalists working in the caliphate suggests they would have been strict censors.

The Vice videos pump out Isis’s threatening messages. A jihadi is filmed saying that, if Turkey continues to hold water in the Euphrates river via the Atatürk Dam, Isis will ‘liberate Turkey’. Later, a Belgian jihadi prompts his son to shout that he wants to ‘kill infidels’. Abu Mosa, the Islamic State’s head of press, has a starring role. Balanced reporting this ain’t.

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Photo: Medyan Dairieh/VICE News

Still, Vice has gone where no other media company has managed: into the heart of the Islamic State. As a result, the two organisations have formed a bizarre symbiotic relationship. Both are youth-focused, both have global ambitions and both have a pioneering spirit. Even their black-and-white branding is similar. It is a delicious irony, though, that Isis should choose Murdoch-funded Vice News as its principal media partner. Vice’s oeuvre includes ‘The Vice Guide To Sex’ and a guide to the ‘all-alcohol diet’. Hardly Sharia-friendly stuff. Perhaps western news outlets all look the same from the dusty plains of the caliphate. Or maybe Isis aren’t nearly as clued up as we think they are. Either way, Vice News has produced the most compelling coverage of this new war so far.

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Show comments
  • Dan Grover

    They’re great, and this isn’t the first time; They also have a great series – in a similar 10 minute format – on North Korean labour camps in Russia.

  • Ricky Strong

    Series 2 part 1 – live from the capitals of Europe.

    • Pootles

      We’re not finished yet. Our main problem is our so-called ‘leaders’ and the cultural and political elites that keep them afloat.

      • Ricky Strong

        I do agree that is part of the problem but I can’t help but think it’s because we have lost our identity as a nation. Every week there seems to be some debate that seeks to define who we are and what ‘British values’ are. Even the laws under which we live are muddled, half steeped in the history of these islands and half emanating from people and institutions we have never voted for.

        How can we, in a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic country define what it is we stand for and then seek the defend those principles? We profess human rights, but grant them selectively, we profess freedom of speech but place limits on it, we purport the freedom of the media but regulate it and we claim to be democratic but seemingly despise it.

        From top to bottom this country is a mess, and it seems that rats like ISIS thrive in such environments.

        • Pootles

          I agree. And things have changed so rapidly, we haven’t caught up. In the fairly recent past, because we were a pretty homogenous population (class, and to a lesser degree, region, being the main ‘divisions’, and I think that is too strong a word), so we didn’t have a problem – we just ‘knew’ who we were, we didn’t have to define it. Now, that effective homogeneity is a thing of the past, there is frequent recourse to politically determined ‘values’, which ignore a sense of place, belonging, and history, because the mass of different peoples here don’t share those things anymore. For myself, I am English, my home is England, and I know what that means to me – it is a sense of place, of belonging. It is where I am from and where I hope to remain. Beyond that, I feel close to other British nations, and I am also European, and ‘Western’.

          • Ricky Strong

            Couldn’t agree with you any more. I’m only 30 but this country is certainly different from the one I remember in my childhood.

          • Damaris Tighe

            “Now, that effective homogeneity is a thing of the past, there is frequent recourse to politically determined ‘values'”: I used to notice that while being British was a very quiet, unostentatious thing, being American involved flags outside private homes & in your face patriotism. This was of course because the US is a nation of immigrants. You only have to constantly remind people what they are when they’re not rooted.

          • Pootles

            Absolutely. In recent years, I have joined the flag display gang, flying an English flag. I was actually spurred to do this after seeing how ubiquitous the Danish flag (the Dannebrog) is in Denmark. I have also come to regard myself as belonging to the tribe of the English in an increasingly tribal England.

          • Damaris Tighe

            I wonder whether the Danes started flying their flag because of immigration, or whether it’s an older phenomenon – a nation that has land borders & has been occupied might be more inclined to do this.

          • Pootles

            I think it dates from the dissolution of the Danish-Norwegian union in 1814, but it may well also be connected with the various struggles Denmark had with Prussia later in the century. It certainly predates mass immigration.

          • Damaris Tighe

            So again, it’s associated with making a point – a point that until recently Britain/England didn’t need to make.

          • Pootles

            Yes, indeed.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          You voted for those Labour bastards, so suck it up.

          • Ricky Strong

            I don’t recall voting for Labour, I do however remember being utterly depressed when they won.

  • Damaris Tighe

    “Abu Mosa, the Islamic State’s head of press …” – head attached or separated from his body?

  • Augustus

    “The BBC admitted defeat….”

    Heads will roll!

  • Augustus

    Who cares who’s covering the jihadis as they tear up the region as long as they all get dispatched into purgatory?

    • RaymondDance

      Do you think the Jihadis are aware the whole thing was planned in
      Washington and Tel Aviv as a way of getting all the prime nutters
      together in one place?

  • “Balanced reporting this ain’t.” I think you’ve missed the point somewhat. The documentary isn’t revolutionary because they managed to get reporters where others haven’t, or even because it was on the internet (other news channels have extras on the net). It was because Vice made no attempt to convey a ‘balanced picture’ in the eyes of the reporters. Instead they delivered a straight up view of what Islamic State themselves wanted us to see – and let the terrorists condemn hang themselves by their own petards.
    Modern audiences, more used to plurality of sources, are tired of the way the liberal media likes to spin stories in the name of impartiality. After all, what would that mean here? Some imam trying to suggest that IS are just very misunderstood, when we can see with our own eyes that they are clearly not.

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