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A Different March Madness – Media Coverage of Terrorism

New research shows news coverage often unnecessarily links the Islamic faith to acts of extremist violence. (iStockphoto)
New research shows news coverage often unnecessarily links the Islamic faith to acts of extremist violence. (iStockphoto)
March 28, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - With the March Madness basketball tournament underway, social justice advocates are releasing their own version of the Elite Eight, the eight most-quoted sources in news articles about terrorism.

To create their list, the American Friends Service Committee studied more than 600 news stories about violent extremism.

Beth Hallowell is a communications research director with the group.

She says they found U.S. politicians and military officials were among the top-quoted sources in the coverage, which more often than not portrays a link between extremism and the Islamic religion.

"Our national discourse is at an all-time low when it comes to violence, race, religion and so forth," says Hallowell. "And so, we really want to encourage journalists and advocates to work together to change that narrative."

The committee's research also shows Islam is mentioned in context with extremist violence about 90 percent of the time in media coverage, even if religion had nothing to do with the news story.

Separate studies have shown that over the last decade, other ideologies, including white supremacy, are more likely to be behind a terrorist act in the U.S.

Hallowell argues sometimes media coverage can unintentionally create the false impression that terrorism related to Muslims, especially in the U.S., is more prevalent that it actually is.

To help curb that trend, Hallowell encourages reporters to avoid sensationalism.

"We encourage journalists to try to cover Muslim communities and Muslims as complex individuals, just like everybody else," she says. "And try to avoid some of the stereotypical linkages between Islam and violence."

She also suggests that advocacy groups could work with media outlets to get more balanced coverage of Muslim communities into the mainstream.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV