Mainstream media reporting on Islam, and especially on “security threats” linked to Muslim actors, are often criticized for their bias and the way they promote Islamophobia.
All studies on media reports on Muslims and Islam show, to a greater or lesser extent, that the mainstream media across Europe are often biased against Muslims and involved in spreading Islamophobic ideas, especially the alleged relationship between Muslims and extremism and radicalization.
Why are the media racist?
But what causes this? The new report of which I am a co-author analyzes in detail the factors that cause the widespread dissemination of anti-Muslim reports in the media. In general, academic studies agree that reports are influenced by the pressures of advertising and marketing, the political orientation of publishers, and especially, from the owners of the media. Another key influence on reporting is journalists’ dependence on a narrow range of apparently authoritative sources.
Mastery of “official” sources
Research shows that these “official” definitions of the “problem” of “radicalization” and “extremism” dominate the media. Actors who enact these views can be called “primary definitions” of problems. The phrase was coined by Stuart Hall and his colleagues in the 1970s. He sees the media as “secondary” definers, who are in “structured subordination” to “primary definitions.
But who are these “primary” definers in the case of Muslims? First, the state anti-terrorist apparatus; police, intelligence services, and a wide range of other “counterterrorism” officials. They are supported by neoconservative and anti-extremism pressure groups and expert groups.
The report examines how Islam is treated in the press in five European countries: the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. A long sample period of twenty years was able to detect changes in the reports and if they were related to policy changes, to verify/falsify the thesis that official sources were the most important influence.
The evolution of anti-terrorism policy
The United Kingdom adopted a “Prevention” policy on the fight against terrorism in 2003. This was quickly followed by the EU and the Netherlands in 2005. France ( 2014 ) and Spain ( 2015 ) took another decade to introduce similar policies. Only Italy did not adopt a “prevent” style policy at the time of the study. One was almost approved in 2016 / 7, but the government collapsed before it was enacted.
Coverage of “extremism” and “radicalization” in Europe
The first significant spike in coverage of “extremism” in the UK occurred in 2005 – 2006. 2005 was the year of the London bombings on 7 July, after which Prime Minister Tony Blair said “the rules of the game are changing” and at that time the “Prevention” policy was already in force . A second peak from 2011 corresponded to a later iteration of “Prevenir”, which was a significant movement in a neoconservative direction.
French reports show an increase in attention to “radicalization” from 2012 when a political debate on radicalization began to emerge, followed by an exponential increase in 2016. This process preceded the attack in France against Charlie Hebdo ( January 2015 ) and the Bataclan ( November 2015 ). ) and is more obviously related to the launch of the new anti-terrorism strategy in April 2014.
Spanish data shows that coverage started later and peaked in 2017, one year after France. The beginnings of the increase go back to the discussion and subsequent launch of the new anti-terrorism strategy in January 2015.
Italian data shows the inverted relationship, with reports of “extremism” always higher than those of “radicalization. Given that the term “radicalization” is particularly associated with official anti-terrorism policy, this trend possibly reflects the relative lack of such a policy in Italy. The start of the “radicalization” increase in 2014 coincides with the publication of reports by neo-conservative expert groups, with an exponential increase during the attempt to approve the “Prevent” bill.
What official sources are cited in the media
But what sources were cited in the twenty-year sample? In the UK, the data showed the prominence of intelligence agencies. MI5, the national intelligence agency, and MI6, the foreign agency, stood out. Together they totaled almost six percent of the total appointments of the top one hundred.
The think tanks they were prominent in the UK, with the Quilliam Foundation, often criticized for its proximity to the British state, and the Henry Jackson Society, often described as “Islamophobic, that was presented regularly.
Civil rights organizations such as the Islamic Commission on Human Rights, ranked 96, or Cage, which is not among the top 100, were cited very little. This reflects his critical position on anti-terrorism policy and the UK government’s “radicalization” approach.
France – Intelligence-led coverage with Muslim groups captured by the state
In France, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure ( DGSI ), the national intelligence agency, was the most cited. Its external equivalent, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure ( DGSE ), was presented at 28. Government ministries obtained a relatively high ranking and generally, ( were cited more widely with 26 percent of citations ) than the EU ( 17 percent ) or the UN ( eight percent ).
Muslim civil society groups were relatively prominent with six percent of the appointments in total. On closer inspection, each of them was effectively a government spokesperson. By contrast, genuine Muslim civil rights organizations such as “Le Collectif Contre l’islamophobie” in France were not among the hundred most cited groups.
Spain – Official sources and think tanks neoconservatives
In Spain, the Ministry of the Interior is the second most cited body. It should be noted that the neoconservative think tank Fundación Real Instituto Elcano was one of the most cited organizations, standing above the think tanks of the rest of the countries. The Neo-Conservative Foundation for Social Analysis and Studies ( FAES ) also featured prominently, receiving more appointments than any Muslim civil rights organization in Spain. The president of FAES is José María Aznar, former president of the Government of Spain. Aznar is also NewsCorp director for Rupert Murdoch, responsible for a number of Islamophobic news media around the world, as well as being involved with various Zionist groups.
Italy: lack of official Italian sources
In Italy, unlike the other countries, the highest Italian ministry cited was the Ministry of Economy and Finance ( 11o ). He was cited less frequently than six international government organizations: the European Union, the United Nations, NATO, Europol and the European Commission. This shows that if the Italian state did not promote the perspective of “radicalization”, the Italian media would resort to other official international sources. US intelligence agencies – the CIA and the FBI – were more cited than the Italian national intelligence agency, Dipartimento delle Informazioni per la Sicurezza ( DIS ), not listed at all in the sample. Italian data also included some quotes from neoconservative organizations.
Official sources as holders of power
In general, the role of the security state is absolutely central to the way the media operates on issues related to Muslims and security. In each case, we examine what this was, unlike media factors such as ownership, editorial control, or “reality” ( world events ), which provided the main impetus for the direction and tone of the coverage.
Changes in anti-Muslim reporting date back to the adoption of “Prevent” style policies. This reflects the crucial role of official sources, specifically government institutions associated with the anti-terrorist apparatus and intelligence agencies, in determining what is being reported and how. This was particularly key in the dominance of intelligence sources in the French and British reports. The role of neoconservative think tanks and against extremism was also significant as defenders of the security state, for example in Spain and the United Kingdom.
The “primary definitions” of Islamophobic news media coverage are, therefore, the central institutions of the security state in relation to which the media are in structured subordination as “secondary” defining.
In terms of politics, the bottom line is that problems of racism or media bias cannot be solved only at the level of media reform. Reform of the State and anti-terrorism policy is also necessary.