Analysis Shows Media Demonizes Muslims

American Friends Service Committee

PHILADELPHIA (INPS | AFSC) – Islamophobia is at work in our national media, according to an original content analysis by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace and justice organization. The analysis shows a disturbing narrative link between Muslims and extremism, and then over-represents violent responses to politically motivated conflict.

The report, Mixed Messages: How the Media Covers “Violent Extremism” and What You Can Do About It, reviewed more than 600 news items from 20 major U.S. news outlets. Articles were sampled during April-June 2015 from 15 national media outlets such as the New York Times and NPR, and five “influencer” outlets such as Politico and CQ Weekly that reach audiences of policymakers and government staff.

“How can the U.S. public be expected to do anything but support further military intervention in the Middle East, given this framework for covering violent extremism?” says AFSC’s Beth Hallowell who wrote the report. “What we found painted a disturbing picture of Muslims as an undifferentiated group linked to violence and extremism, and military solutions as the de facto ways to combat extremism violence.”

Among the key findings:

  • A staggering 90 percent of coverage mention Islam, even when neither Islam nor Islamic extremism was the story’s main subject. But only 13 percent of articles mentioned Christianity, and only 4 percent of articles mentioned Judaism.
  • The media frames extremist groups as both “cunning” and “crazy” – sometimes both at the same time – suggesting violence is the only possible response, and ignoring decades of proof that nonviolent tactics like dialogue and diplomacy are more effective at ending conflicts.
  • There is five times more coverage of bombings, drone strikes, and other violent response to incidents than nonviolent responses – like peace talks.
  • The report offers three recommendations to help advocates, journalists and readers and viewers change this narrative and bring under-reported facts to light. Specifically:
  • Tell stories that highlight common humanity, especially that of historically marginalized groups – including Muslims.
  • Highlight the history, complexity and root causes of politicized organized violence, without resorting to stereotypes like “crazy” or “coldly calculating’ extremists.
  • Cover nonviolence and peacebuilding efforts that work instead of just military options.

“Wars on terror, extremism, or other nations do not happen by accident. Islamophobia in the media or in public discourse does not happen by accident. Both are choices. We have been able to choose to create lasting social change in the past, and make great strides forward towards peace with justice. We can do it again today,” the report concludes.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization around the world and in the U.S. to build peace with justice. In 2017, AFSC will celebrate 100 years of advocacy and action. AFSC includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. (INPS | 12 May 2016)

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