RESEARCH • (RE)framing Islam

EXCERPT FROM ICMPA WEBSITE PROJECT — SEE FULL PROJECT WEBSITE HERE


(RE)framing Islam: Who’s Winning? • Covering Elections in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan & Pakistan


An Afghan woman reveals the ink on her finger – indicating that she cast her vote.
An Afghan woman reveals the ink on her finger – indicating that she cast her vote.

The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) conducted a study on how U.S. and British news media covered five years of presidential and parliamentary elections in Muslim-majority countries.

Researchers evaluated the coverage  of the elections in 2010 and 2005 in Iraq, in 2009 in Afghanistan and Iran, and in 2008 in Pakistan. To further compare the reporting, ICMPA also looked at how Al Jazeera (English) covered the last four of those elections.



How did the American and British media “re-frame” the Islamic world for their audiences? Researchers noted positive change over time. Mainstream media learned how to better cover Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

See the TOP HIGHLIGHTS of the ICMPA STUDY below:

The good news:

1.  “TERRORISM” IS ABATING – AT LEAST THE PRACTICE OF REFLEXIVELY CONSIDERING THOSE WHO OPPOSE AMERICAN-STYLE INSTITUTIONS AS TERRORISTS.
Media are more careful about what they call ‘terrorism.’ Following 9/11, U.S. and U.K. media covered elections in the Muslim world as if they were cosmic battles between the forces of terrorism and those of democracy.
…..By 2005 and the election in Iraq, media on both sides of the Atlantic had grown skeptical of foreign policies of the White House and Downing Street, but still stenographically reported the governments’ terrorism v. democracy rhetoric. “The people of Iraq have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists,” the Times, in London, quoted Bush as saying.
…..Yet five years later, for the March 7, 2010 election in Iraq, when media talked – or quoted others as talking – about terror, it was in specific reference to a particular act of terror, such as a suicide bombing.

2.  WHO ARE THE NEW BAD GUYS?  FRAUD & CORRUPTION.
The cases of fraud and corruption that have dominated media in the U.S. and U.K. have put corruption elsewhere around the world higher on the agenda. While it has always been the case that democratic institutions are undermined by corruption, U.S. and U.K. media attention to foreign stories of corruption – other than misuse of aid – was limited. Yet by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, coverage of corruption and fraud during elections in Muslim-majority countries was almost as extensive as coverage of security concerns.

…and the bad news:

3.  WHEN AMERICANS AND THE BRITISH FEEL EVENTS ARE BEING OVERTAKEN BY TERRORISTS, MEDIA CAN STILL BE TEMPTED TO BROADLY CHARACTERIZE ENEMIES – OR EVEN JUST POLITICAL OPPONENTS – BY PEJORATIVELY REFERENCING RELIGION.
So, for instance, while covering the election and its surrounding violence in Pakistan, media spoke about “radical Muslim clerics,” “Islamic extremists,” “Islamic radicals” and “Islamic fundamentalists” – all without clear indications of what those phrases meant in context or in relative terms. During the 2010 election in Iraq and the 2009 election in Iran, however, media more clearly identified sectarian divisions and political parties, forswearing the temptation of speaking in too generic of terms.

4.  THE TERM “WESTERN” IS STILL TOO CASUALLY USED IN OPPOSITION TO “ISLAMIC” OR “MUSLIM.”
Just as monolithic references to a group or a policy as “Muslim” or “Islamic” hides important distinctions, so too does use of the term “Western” obscure differences between the U.S. and the U.K., or the U.K. and other European countries, etc.

5.  U.S. MEDIA (ESPECIALLY) COVER ELECTIONS AS REFERENDA ON U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND MILITARY STRATEGY – AND ON WHETHER THE U.S. HAS ALIGNED ITSELF WITH GENUINE LEADERS (rather than with strongmen who appear to offer stability at a cost of their countries’ civil and human rights record).

6.  VIOLENCE MAKES THE NEWS, BUT MEDIA HAVE BECOME BLASÉ ABOUT SUICIDE BOMBINGS. BOMBINGS ARE REPORTED, BUT MOSTLY AS A YARDSTICK FOR ASSESSING THE SECURITY LEVEL OF A COUNTRY.
Are terrorists – the Taliban, al Qaeda – gaining or losing ground? What does the level of violence mean for Pakistan, for instance … and what are the implications for the United States? The problem is that since the perpetrators of violent attacks – as well as the victims – are rarely clearly identified, an audience’s understanding of the implications of and possible solutions to the violence is strictly limited.

7.  COVERAGE OF ELECTIONS REMAINS “TOP-DOWN”: MEDIA PAY TOO LITTLE ATTENTION TO VOTERS BEYOND TALKING ABOUT VOTING BLOCKS OR RELIGIOUS/TRIBAL DIVISIONS.
When talking about voters, media too often portray them as a faceless mob, manipulated by politicians and religious leaders. Media too rarely portray the public as being independently responsive to policy decisions by authorities.

8.  WOMEN: REPORTS ON THEIR STATUS CONTINUE TO BE USED TO EVALUATE A COUNTRY’S PROGRESS TOWARD CIVIL RIGHTS FOR CITIZENS.
And reports on their victimization are still used to indict those who abuse them – whether those are husbands or the state. But, overall, women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq received little coverage in the time periods of the elections – and significantly less than they did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

9.  WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE 2009 ELECTION IN IRAN, U.S. AND U.K. MAINSTREAM MEDIA DID NOT TAP INTO SOCIAL MEDIA FOR LOCAL OPINIONS AND EYEWITNESS REPORTS.
Iranians in the streets covered their own protests after the international press corps was booted out of the country. But in other countries where foreign journalists have had access, there has been too little effort to tap into YouTube postings, Tweets, Facebook, the blogosphere or other social media outlets to supplement and deepen coverage.


SEE FULL PROJECT WEBSITE HERE 

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