New anti-Muslim media study flawed
This post was written by MJ on 13 Feb, 2003
The Canadian Islamic Council has released their fifth annual “Anti-Islam in the media” report and, to the surprise of exactly no-one, they say Mark Steyn and co down at the National Post have been naughty, naughty boys.
“For the third year in a row, the National Post was ranked as worst in its persistent use of anti-Islam terminology. CIC’s recent research reports have shown a modest average reduction of 17% in the use of anti-Islam language from 1998 onward (the year Anti-Islam in the Media was launched), until September 11, 2001. Following that date however, and continuing during 2002, there has been a substantial reversal of this trend, resulting in an overall negative increase of 380%.”
The Montreal Gazette placed third on their list of anti-Muslim scofflaws, behind the Post and the Ottawa Citizen. With circulation factored in, the Gazette improves to fifth spot, behind the Post, the Toronto Star, the Globe and the Citizen.
But their so-called “methodical and carefully documented assessment” is anything but.
First, by all appearances it was done in-house, by CIC researchers, degrading its credibility.
Second, the survey uses a crude point system based largely on specific terms used in media reports which ignores the context or veracity of the language. The system uses ten (vague) markers, ranked from “worst” (“Identifying Muslims by their religion when they are involved in violent acts: 100 points”) to middling (“Use of the term ‘Muslim Terrorists’, etc: 80 points) to “bad” (“Failing to offer a balanced view on political events related to Muslims: 10 points.”) It then multiplies points by two factors: article placement and newspaper circulation.
The problems with this should be pretty obvious. What is a “balanced view”? What are Osama bin Laden and ilk if not terrorists who see their faith as the core justification and motivation for their acts? Yes, some newspapers have too loosely ascribed Muslim labels to political violence and yes, any content study is going to be subjective by nature. But this methodology is so vague and dependent on the judgement of the critic as to be useless.
A good example of the flaws in this study is one article they cite as the first example of how “Canada’s newspapers endangered the well-being of Canadian Muslims in 2002,” appearing in the Toronto Star on January 7, 2002, headlined “Three plots hatched…” No article with that headline appears in the Star in the last two years; I’m assuming they are referencing a long front-page article on that date called “Spycatchers find network of hate,” written by two NYTimes reporters.
In any event, it’s hard to see how the investigative feature might promote hate. The fact that it uses terms like “Islamic terror network” seem its only sin — but as the article details the inner workings of al Qaeda before 9.11, it’s hard to know what other terms could be used. Furthermore, it has a long, nuanced account of why one man, Djemal Bhegal, turned to a life of violence. It notes that as an Algerian in France he was the victim of discrimination, “despite speaking flawless French.” Like many immigrants, “he was stuck on the bottom, drifting between menial jobs in grimy outdoor food market stalls outside Paris. For a man with intelligence, charisma and a penchant for leadership, it was a frustrating existence.” Hardly the caricature of a wild-eyed Muslim riven by hate. Indeed, the portrait painted and the words used could describe the members of any immigrant group who turn to violence or crime to succeed in new societies, from the Irish to Scots to Italians to Jews.
Most of the other offending articles cited are columns by the usual suspects: Steyn and the Post, Margaret Wente at the Globe, etc.
Finally, the study offers only wooly examples of the effect of this allegedly biased language. Despite the CIC’s alleged epidemic of anti-Muslim language, Canada has not seen an increase in anti-Muslim acts; there is widespread revulsion for the pinheaded excesses of the Canadian government, especially in the area of new immigration rules; Canadians by and large have rejected the Bush administration’s anti-Iraqi campaign and do not want to go to war. If only every society was this anti-Muslim.