Two political scientists, professors Erik Bleich and Maurits van der Veen, "conclusively" found that coverage of Muslims is "overwhelmingly" more negative on average in comparison to other ethnic groups after analyzing over 784,000 newspaper articles published over 21 years.
The professors looked at 256,000 articles from the United States and 528,000 British, Canadian and Australian publications from 1996 to 2016 before reaching the conclusion.
In other words, the research found that Muslims are “systematically” misrepresented more than others in the Western press, which in turn leads to anti-Muslim sentiment detrimentally affecting Muslims in Western countries.
The academics’ findings were reported on conversation.com in an article penned by the authors.
“Our central finding is that the average article mentioning Muslims or Islam in the United States is more negative than 84% of articles in our random sample. This means that one would likely have to read six articles in U.S. newspapers to find even one that was as negative as the average article touching on Muslims,” the academics wrote.
They found in the U.S. that articles mentioning Muslims were more likely to be negative compared to Catholics, Jews, Hindus or any other group. “The proportion of positive and negative articles was close to 50-50 (Catholics, Jews and Hindus). By contrast, 80% of all articles related to Muslims were negative,” they found.
The authors were “struck” by the divergence between how negatively Muslims are depicted by the mainstream media compared to other religions. “Our work shows that the media are not prone to publishing negative stories when they write about other minority religions, but they are very likely to do so when they write about Muslims,” they explained.
The study collected and analyzed articles from U.S., U.K, Australian and Canadian newspapers related to not only Muslims but also Catholics, Jews and Hindus, and made various comparisons of how the religions were represented in the articles based on religion and country.
Providing a concrete example of Islamophobic bias in a typical newspaper article about Muslims, the authors gave the following example: “Consider the following sentence that has the tone of the average Muslim article: ‘The Russian was made to believe by undercover agents that the radioactive material was to be delivered to a Muslim organization.’ This contains two highly negative words (‘undercover’ and ‘radioactive’) and implies that the ‘Muslim organization’ has nefarious goals.”
After the U.S., the authors then compared newspaper articles published in other Anglosphere Western countries – Australia, Canada and the U.K. – analyzing 528,444 articles and “found that the proportion of negative to positive articles in these countries was almost exactly the same as that in the United States.” They found that the percentage of newspaper articles mentioning the Muslim faith that are negative in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia are nearly the same, at 80%, 79%, 79% and 77% respectively.
Overall, they found an “overwhelmingly negative coverage” of Muslims in the U.S. U.K., Canada and Australia.
The study authors drew a link between negative coverage and harm to Muslims, referencing the results of previous studies. “Other studies that looked at the impact of negative information about Muslims also found an increase in support for policies that harm Muslims, such as secret surveillance of Muslim Americans or the use of drone attacks in Muslim countries,” they found.
The authors drew a recent real-world comparison mentioning the warm welcome Americans and Europeans gave the Ukrainians in 2022 that contrasts with the irregular and hostile policies toward Syrian refugees in the 2010s.
The authors believe that acknowledging and then addressing “the systemic negativity” of media coverage of Muslims and Islam is “vital” to combat the “widespread stigmatization” of Muslims.
The authors also called to “create opportunities for more humane policies that are fair to everyone regardless of their faith.”
Given the rapid increase in Islamophobic attacks in most Western countries in the past few years, and the important role of the media fuelling anti-Semitism before and during the Holocaust, the authors' concerns and advice, based on extremely strong evidence, should be urgently acted upon. This is important because the clear trajectory of the Islamophobic trend is moving further vilification and violence against Muslims living in the West.