Media Bias in News Reportage
By: Jude Ephson
Over the years, western news media outlets seem to have created fear and panic about the religion of Islam and Islamic countries in the Middle East as being the main cause of terrorism in the world. This is mainly because most global media outlets originate from countries that practice western democracy, and have created a negative perception about Islamic countries that do not practice similar systems of government as theirs.
Unfortunately, there are no major news media outlets in the Middle East, with the exception of Al Jazeera, that can counter the narrative of global news corporations such as CNN, BBC, The Guardian, and Vice News that reach millions of news media consumers around the world daily.
One of the main stereotypes that western media outlets keep reemphasising to their audience is that, Islamic countries are war-torn and are inhabited by violent people who are looking for the least opportunity to commit an act of terrorism. In addition to publishing real-life occurrences, these news media outlets also capitalise on the slightest opportunity to publicise rumours, half-truths, and
speculations about Muslim countries providing financial and logistical support to rebels and terrorists, without verifying whether such claims are true or not.
The unfortunate aspect of such publications is that, these news media outlets do not publish follow-up stories when such alleged cases are not true, to update their audience on the authenticity of the such serious allegations of terrorism. However, there is always an update when such speculations are true.
For the average news media consumer that has not visited or had any interaction with anyone from the Middle East, they are more likely to associate violence with Islam or the Middle East based on what they see and hear about that part of the world. Conversely, these western media outlets are slow to report verified cases of instances where Muslim countries have intervened or contributed towards peaceful initiatives in the international arena.
THE TERRORIST VERSUS THE PEACEMAKER
Saudi Arabia Has 'Clear Link' To UK Extremism, Report Says
This article published by the BBC is an example of an article that gave an extensive insight into how Saudi Arabia was the leading cause of promoting Islamist extremism in the UK.
This detailed article which began with a bold subtitle that stated: ‘Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed’, was published entirely on the basis of speculation.
The caption of the article boldly stated that ‘Saudi Arabia is’, however, the article was full of suggestive statements showing that they were allegations and not confirmed facts.
For example, there was a sentence in the article that stated: ‘In a minority of cases, the report alleges institutions in the UK that receive Saudi funding are run directly from Saudi Arabia, although in most instances the money appears to “simply buy foreign donors' influence”.
There was another sentence in the article that stated: ‘It alleges individuals and foundations have been heavily involved in exporting what it calls "an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology", quoting a number of examples’.
UAE's Role in Ethiopia-Eritrea Rapprochement Draws Praise
Unlike the previous story that was published based on speculation and allegation, no news media outlet outside the Middle East published the story about the UAE’s role in facilitating peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, that were at war for almost two decades.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, did not fail to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, for being the linchpin of this historic peace treaty that has restored cordial relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea after a war that lasted for almost 20 years.
Even though a few media outlets outside the Middle East published this story of Ethiopia and Eritrea ending their conflict, none of these media outlets stated how the UAE played a seminal role in achieving peace between these two countries.
Only UAE-based newspapers such as Khaleej Times and The National published this side of the story and quoted the statement made by Ethiopia's Foreign Minister. However, had it been the case that there were confirmed reports or even rumours of the UAE or any Muslim country were funding armed groups in Ethiopia and Eritrea to escalate the war, there is a higher possibility it would have hit news headlines outside the Middle East.
Indeed, there have been acts of terrorism committed by people who claim to belong to Islam, or who hail from Islamic countries. However, the media seems to be quick to publish alleged cases alongside confirmed cases, making it difficult for average news media consumers to decipher what has been confirmed and what has been alleged.
THE OPPRESSOR VERSUS THE HELPER
Rahaf Mohammed: Saudi Teen Says Women 'Treated Like Slaves'
The coverage of this story about an 18-year-old Saudi girl named Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, is an example of how western news media outlets are quick to publish unconfirmed allegations against Islamic countries, and constantly portray them as human rights abusers.
In a widely circulated video, the Saudi teenager alleged that she wanted to seek asylum specifically from Canada, the United States, Australia, or the United Kingdom because she had renounced Islam as her religion while being a citizen of Saudi Arabia. She further stated that she did not have rights in Saudi Arabia, and that her family tortured her and wanted to kill her.
Thus, she said she escaped from her family while they were on a trip to Kuwait by taking another flight to Thailand. As a result
of her video and her social media petition, social media users and celebrities rallied in her support, eventually making the UN Refugee Agency give her refugee status and contacting countries on the quickest way to grant her
Because of her claims on social media, almost every global news media outlets including prominent agencies such as BBC and CNN reported this story with regular updates as if it was actually verified that she was telling the truth.
This story made the news media outlets highlight the human rights record of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and they also compared verified cases of abuse to this alleged case of abuse.
The issue with this reportage was that only the girl’s side of the story was published all over the news. Almost every news media
consumer believed the girls story because of the stereotype about Arab countries oppressing people who disagree with their traditions and customs.
Consequently, news media outlets capitalised on this story to generate more website visitors and advertising revenue, since concerned news media consumers would regularly visit news websites for updates on this seemingly oppressed teenager.
However, nobody knows the real reason she escaped, except for what she said on social media and what she told the press about being tortured and almost killed. But there are many reasons she could have escaped.
What if she had stolen something from her family and could not stand the shame? What if she had physically abused someone and wanted to escape? Since she was also specific about the countries she wanted asylum from, what if she was attracted to the glitz and glamour of western countries she may have seen online and wanted an excuse to relocate for a better life in Canada, the United States, Australia, or the United Kingdom?
All these are possible reasons she could have wanted to relocate. However, the media publishing only her side of the story without any comment from her family still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
The media hype about this case fast-tracked her asylum process, and she eventually gained asylum in Canada. Canada’s quick acceptance of the Saudi teen’s asylum claim shows how the media has normalized Islamophobia.
This is because, a year before this Saudi teen’s asylum application, the Canadian government had reiterated all over the news that they had an influx of immigrants from different countries who were seeking asylum, and they were trying to manage resources and assessing their claims before they consider their asylum applications.
Thus, the fact that they easily made the Saudi teenager skip the bureaucratic process that other asylum seekers go through, shows that they believe the teenager wholeheartedly and can base their decisions on media speculation of an oppressive Arab country to grant asylum.
However, other refugees have had to wait for months or years for similar reasons while their claims are still being verified and processed. Unfortunately, those ordinary asylum applicants did not get enough media attention to get the speedy process this Saudi teenager received to jump the queue.
Dubai Ruler Pays Medical Expenses of Russian Mother Who Died Suddenly
Coincidentally, just two months before the case of the Saudi teenager dominated the headlines, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai showed an act of kindness to the family of a tourist who died in Dubai.
The woman who was on a vacation died from a cardiac arrest while touring Dubai with her family. However, Sheikh Mohammed took the financial burden off the dead woman’s family by paying for the woman’s medical expenses which was about USD228,000 (Dh840,000). He also covered the cost of sending the dead woman’s corpse back to her home country, Russia, for burial.
Even though this news involved a foreign national, none of the major western news media outlets published this story showing this act of kindness by an official of a Muslim
country. However, this news was only covered by Middle Eastern news media outlets such as Khaleej Times and The National.
It seems western news media outlets prefer to publicise negative events about the religion of Islam or Muslim countries, to continue the narrative of Islam being associated with terrorism or oppression. Despite this general observation about their unwillingness to publish positive stories, some western news media outlets occasionally but rarely try to highlight acts of kindness done in Muslim countries..
For example, in a similar case where a British national fell of a horse in Dubai, the Ruler of Dubai payed her medical bills of about USD76,000 since the family set up a fundraising page because they could not afford to pay. Aside Middle Eastern news media outlets publishing this story, the BBC was the only major news media outlet outside the region to report this story where there was an extensive article written about this case.
Overall, major news outlets outside the Middle East always prefer to publish more negative stories than positive stories, which have normalised Islamophobia and given many people a reason to fear Muslims. However, if they were to equally report acts of kindness or the gradual changes taking place in many Muslim countries, people might have a clearer picture of the Middle East and Islam as a religion.
An English author named Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said: 'The pen is mightier than the sword'. Knowing this, such negative one-sided news articles can tarnish the image of Muslims, Islam, and the Middle East. The media must maintain credibility by providing a balanced reportage of both positive and negative events - Jude Ephson