Mediating Islamic State| Toward a Protostate Media System:The Role of ISIS’s Content

Kareem El Damanhoury


Militant groups introduce a layer of complexity to existing theories of media systems. Operating as a protostate, ISIS defies the common understandings of Hallin and Mancini’s four dimensions of national media systems by blurring the lines among the media, journalists, and the state. This study offers a first step toward understanding the role of content in this emerging media system by analyzing the most recurring components (photographs) during a key transitional period (Mosul battles). A mixed-methods analysis of 1,204 images that one ISIS province disseminated under immense military pressure breaks the photographic campaign into nine military and nonmilitary visual frames and identifies key visual semiotic tools that delineate among the group’s militants, Iraqi forces, and civilians. The study reveals that ISIS has established an enduring, highly visual protostate media system, in which frames and semiotics serve to help sustain the system and retain meaning in online circulation. The article concludes with a discussion about how a protostate media system may be countered.


media systems, ISIS, photographs, visual framing, semiotics

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