War/Violence Journalism Promotes Islamophobia

“The story of America’s resurgent Islamophobia is in many ways a media story. …[Media coverage] emphasizes combat, violence, and war. And not just as rhetorical devices for metaphorical struggles against extremism, but rather to describe a narrative of a literal, actual war against ‘radical Muslims’ or ‘Islamists.'” — Max Fisher, Vox, 7 December 2015

Leticia Anderson published “Countering Islamophobic Media Representations: The Potential Role of Peace Journalism” in the 11th volume of Global Media and Communication, 2015.

Why the study? The study was conducted in Australia, and the media there has consistently been identified by Australian Muslims as “a central social institution contributing to experiences of fear and exclusion among targeted communities.” The authors extend earlier research about peace journalism to address growing Islamophobia:

“Given the significance attributed to the media by Muslim individuals and communities as a site for the promulgation and perpetuation of Islamophobia, and the clear disruptions to community harmony and cohesion which have resulted from the growth of Islamophobia in Australia, it is important to explore the potential offered by peace journalism for combating Islamophobia and wider societal conflict.”

Results of the study? A key finding of the earlier study on which this one is based, is that “war/violence journalism” is associated with high levels of Islamaphobia, whereas Islamophobia levels were much lower when reporting patterns followed a peace journalism approach.

(War/violence reporting is characterized by (1) Elite orientations (the story revolves around elite interests and the sources are usually expert elites); (2) Ignoring causes/outcomes (very little context); (3) A focus on visible effects of direct violence (if it bleeds, it leads); and, (4) Zero-sum orientations (winners and losers, very little compromise or effort to understand the other)).

Findings of this study as they relate to war/violence journalism and Islamophobia:

  • Islam = violence: Stories tended to link Islam with violence and often conflated terrorism with Islam.
  • Over-reporting: An overwhelming number of articles reporting slightly different aspects or developments of a single event.
  • No context: The lack of information makes the violence inexplicable to readers.
  • Fear-mongering: “When the violence depicted is predominantly framed as irrational, unrelenting and unstoppable,” it is difficult for readers to engage without fear.
  • Faux balance: For one paper, “balance” meant that any non-negative story about Islam could be matched with extremely negative stories.
  • No ordinary Muslim voices: Most quotes used in stories were from extreme clerics or militants and used to bolster Islamophobic arguments.
  • No hope: Very few articles offered hopeful responses to the predominant conflict narratives, nor did they offer empathy to those in those narratives and affected by them.

 

 Quick summary? The study consisted of content and discourse analysis of articles published in the two major daily newspapers in Australia over a 3-year period (2004-2007).

The authors used a definition of Islamophobia offered by the British social equity think-tank, the Runnymede Trust. According to the Trust’s report, “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All,” Islamophobia is “an unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

Eight presumptions and/or beliefs support Islamophobia: (1) Islam is a monolithic, static bloc, (2) Muslims are separate and other, (3) Islam is inferior to “the West,” (4) Islam is violent and wants to destroy the West, (5) Islam is a political ideology rather than a legitimate religion, (6) Muslims criticisms of the West are illegitimate, (7) it is okay to discriminate against Muslims, and (8) it is normal and right to be hostile to Muslims.

Take-aways?

  • A “peace journalism” approach may help alleviate Islamophobia supported by “war/violence journalism” by moving away from representations of intractable conflict. Instead, peace journalism advocates argue “for the strong amplification of healing and revealing news: stories of peace and reconciliation between former warriors and perceived enemies.”
  • Peace journalists explore and describe background and contexts in order to enable oppositional (or negotiated) readings of war propaganda and include suggestions and initiatives for peace from diverse voices.
  • Ultimately, a peace journalism orientation tries to provide opportunities for readers to be empathetic by humanizing the people in conflict narratives.

Leticia Anderson is a Lecturer in Cultural Competence at the University of Sydney’s National Centre for Cultural Competence, having previously worked as a lecturer with the University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and the Department of Sociology and Social Policy. Prior to commencing her academic career, Leticia worked in the Australian Indigenous rights and reconciliation movement. Leticia’s research interests include combating Islamophobia, racism and the news media, and fostering cultural competence in higher education and the media.

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