A new study has found that news stories portraying Muslims as terrorists is fueling racism and anger among many non-Muslim Americans who support civil restrictions and military action in Muslim countries.
Lead author of the study, Muniba Saleem, said the negative media exposure on Muslims results in more American support for public policies that harm Muslims domestically and internationally, in part, because this group is perceived as aggressive.
Saleem, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan (U-M) Department of Communication Studies said: “These perceptions, in turn, can create hostile expectations and anger by some non-Muslims, who may exhibit aggressive behaviors.”
Other research has found that the news media has often portrayed minorities in a negative way. Since September 2001, this has been more so the case for Muslims, Arabs, and people from the Middle East, according to a University of Michigan press release.
Several studies have exposed the significant role media play in creating a negative attitude toward Muslims. However, there have been few studies examining whether this negative representation of Muslims has an impact on the support for race-related public policies, which are specifically intended to harm members of this group.
In this study, researchers had tested “the long and short term effects of news portraying Muslims as terrorists on support for international and domestic policies that harm Muslims.”
The researchers used three different studies, and all showed “that exposure to terrorism news increases support for policies that target Muslims internationally and domestically.”
The University of Michigan explains:
In the first study, 715 college students, who identified as non-Muslim, were asked about their exposure to news portraying Muslims as terrorists, and views on military action in Muslim countries. The long-term exposure to terrorism news influenced support for military actions in predominantly Muslim countries.
In the second study, researchers examined support for civil restrictions for Muslim-Americans, such as government monitoring without their consent, separate and more thorough airport security lines, and even their right to vote. About 200 adults were asked about their news exposure to Muslims, how they identify as Americans, and their views about Muslims.
“Results revealed that long-term exposure to terrorism news influences support for civil restrictions for Muslim-Americans. This effect is due to increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive,” Saleem said.
In the third study, the researchers had participants watch three news clips about Muslims:
One video involved Muslim men planning to attack a military base; a neutral video indicated a high school changing the date for its football game because Muslim students were fasting during Ramadan; and a counterstereotypic video that looked at Muslims volunteering during Christmas time.
The third study showed that short-term exposure to terrorism news did have an influence on support for policies which targeted Muslims.
However, when shown a brief news clip that represented Muslims in a positive or neutral way, the study indicated “that it could lower support for policies that targeted Muslims, and does so by lowering perceptions of Muslims as aggressive,” according to the university.
“The effect of positive video was especially strong for conservatives compared to liberals,” the university added.
“The media in itself isn’t the problem; it’s the content within it. If there was more balanced news coverage of Muslims in the United States, as well as worldwide, we would observe a reduction in negative attitudes and behaviors towards Muslims. This is especially important considering the majority of Americans rely on media as their primary source of information about Muslims.”
The findings, which appear in the recent issue of Communication Research, was co-authored by Sara Prot, a doctoral graduate at Iowa State University; Craig Anderson, psychology professor at Iowa State University; and Anthony Lemieux, associate professor of communications at Georgia State University.