Media has anti-Muslim bias, claims report

The portrayal of Arab and Muslim people in the western media is “typically stereotypical and negative”, according to a new study of perceptions of Islam.

The report, commissioned by the Kuwaiti government and based on a surveys and interviews with media experts, claims that terrorism, anti-Americanism and the Iraq occupation dominate TV news coverage of the Middle East.

“In the past 30 years of thousands of TV show series, there have been less than 10 characters who have been Arab-Americans,” the report claims.

“In print stereotypes are not so obvious, except in cartoon caricatures, but they still occur and anti-Muslim bias is more insidious. The terms Islamic or Muslim are linked to extremism, militant, jihads, as if they belonged together inextricably and naturally (Muslim extremist, Islamic terror, Islamic war, Muslim time bomb).

“In many cases, the press talks and writes about Muslims in ways that would not be acceptable if the reference were to Jewish, black or fundamentalist Christians.”

The report says the portrayal of Islam is improving in “certain prestigious news organisations” but that TV news continues to be dominated by coverage of terrorist attacks and hostage images “to shock and engage jaded viewers”.

“Western media organisations must see normal Muslims in everyday life, as professionals, educators, parents, community leaders and participants,” it adds.

The study claims that TV news and documentaries have the strongest influence on people’s views of Islam, followed by newspaper coverage.

Guardian, 14 November 2005