Monday, September 19, 2011

The 'Gound Zero Mosque' Uncovering Media Bias

Upon the recommendation of The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the International Center on Media & Public Affairs (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park, U.S.A. and the Gabinete de Comunicación y Educación at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain, undertook a study to analyze how major news outlets across the globe covered the Park51 mosque (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque") news story over a six-month period, from May-October 2010.  Park51 is a planned Muslim community center to be located two blocks from the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. The proposed plan includes a performing arts center, a fitness center, a bookstore, a culinary school, a September 11 memorial, and a prayer space for the Muslim community. It is intended to be a platform for multi-faith dialogue. The plans were reviewed and approved by the local community board in May 2010.

Conservative bloggers affiliated with the group “Stop Islamization of America,” launched a campaign against the project, renaming it the "Ground Zero Mosque,” which prompted a national controversy.
The research shows that in the US different political interests set the media agenda. Internationally, news outlets that similarly labeled the story consciously understood the harmful nature of this misuse of terminology, as evidenced by warnings of bigotry and Islamophobia. However, their reports still focused on confrontation. Media concentrated on the sensational part of the story. Drawing an emotional connection with readers is seen as more effective than the information itself.

Additionally, international media told the story through the US media lens: journalists used information elaborated by other journalists as a primary source, which helped to produce perceptions of fear and threat. Insufficient knowledge and the misuse of terminology, therefore, may create a disinformation effect that can threaten peace in multicultural communities.

The case study shows the importance of developing media literacy. Citizenship education should address questions relevant to the role of media in multicultural societies. Individuals should be aware of how the media deal with migrants, multiculturalism, and, in this particular case, Islamic culture and religion. They should be enabled and encouraged to develop critical thinking skills in order to differentiate media messages and identify stereotypes, Islamophobia, radicalism, and racism within the media discourse.  

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