According to James L. Hilton and William von Hippel, “Stereotypes are beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviours of members of certain groups. More than just beliefs about groups, they are also theories about how and why certain attributes go together.” Stereotypes are often based upon our exposure to a few prominent examples of people of a certain race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., do something we view as wrong or different, which then shape our understanding and beliefs of all those in the same demographic as those examples.
When the media is flooded with reports about a certain event or issue, people belonging to the same demographic as the perpetrator/s often tend to be alienated by the rest of society, especially if the group is a minority. This occurrence is evident in the aftermath of the September 11 Attacks, for which the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, which had constant media coverage for the next few months. The 9/11 attacks were extremely damaging not only for the victims and their families, but for the Islamic community as a whole. In her academic journal, Erin Kearns stated that “Attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks.”
The Effects of Stereotyping
When stereotyping a certain group by grouping them with those bad examples that stand out, we paint those who have done nothing wrong as evil and as something to fear or shun. In her Journal, Muslim Americans’ Responses to Social Identity Threats: Effects of Media Representations and Experiences of Discrimination, Muniba Saleem explains that “It didn’t matter that I was a teenager, or that I was American, that I was Pakistani. What mattered was that Muslim identity.” Saleem’s research concluded that after viewing the excessive amount of media articles and reports regarding terrorist attacks by certain Muslims, Americans began to view all Muslims as potential terrorists.
According to data released by the FBI, 93 Anti-Muslim assaults were reported in 2001, 81 more assaults than were reported in 2000, which had 12 reported Anti-Muslim assaults. Since 9/11, 18 years ago, Muslim hate crimes have not yet significantly decreased, with the Christchurch Massacre taking place on the 15th March 2019, where a white supremacist shooter live streamed himself entering multiple mosques in New Zealand and opening fire, and has since been arrested and now faces 51 charges of murder and 40 charges for attempted murder.
Despite being the victims of such a horrible crime, words of hate have still been spoken across the world, most prominently by Senator Fraser Anning, who claimed that “Whilst this kind of violent vigilantism can never be justified, what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence”. This quote was taken from a document that Anning posted on his Twitter account, which has since been removed due to containing statements which breached Twitter’s code of conduct and was met with outrage. Anning’s document reflects how people still view Muslims as the problem, which has been created by the negative stereotypes of the media.
How Stereotyping Occurs and avoiding it
The MEAA Journalist’s Code of Ethics requires that the Media “Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.” When publishing content, Media Professionals can publish information regarding the gender, race, age, etc. of people, however, they must ensure that they remain completely unbiased in their reports.
Stereotyping occurs when Journalists forget to remain unbiased when talking about a specific event or person, and instead place their own personal beliefs about the event into their report. Examples of this stereotyping would be if a road accident were to happen, and then placing emphasis on the fact that the driver was Asian, despite no proof that was a factor in the crash, with data suggesting that this is the opposite of the truth.
To avoid stereotyping when publishing reports, Media Professionals should ensure they don’t let their personal beliefs and values influence their writing, and avoid blaming or placing large emphasis on the demographic of the perpetrator, victim or witness of the event that occurred, unless it is a factor which influenced the incident. When reporting, the Media must ensure they follow the same ethical standards for all demographical groups. According to Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera, “The media often “humanise” the non-Muslim perpetrator by referencing mental illness or interviewing family members”. Hasan also believes that to reduce the negative portrayals and stereotypes of Muslims, more diversity and multiculturalism is needed in the media, and rather than focusing on publishing positive or negative stories, the Media needs to publish just the truth without taking a side.
The Media needs to understand how harmful the blaming of stereotypes or placing emphasis on them can be for the parties involved in their reports. The use of stereotypes by the Media creates a divide between different cultural and socioeconomic groups. By using stereotypes, the people in these groups become dehumanised to the rest of society, and they become irritated and disenchanted, and may begin to feel neglected or targeted and resent other people, leading them to do bad things. Magdalena Zawisza offers ways to reduce stereotypes, such as by focussing on the positives of a community, especially when a horrific event has taken place, the Media can report on how a community is helping another out and showing inclusiveness. An emphasis on positive group role models are also important, as it gives those who are affected by these stereotypes someone to look up to, aspire to be and seek guidance from.
Journalism and the Media’s main role is not to provide personal opinions and explain why something happened by blaming stereotypes, but rather to educate people on what’s happening currently. The Media shouldn’t be taking sides when reporting, instead remain unbiased, not trying to draw conclusions using stereotypes, which often has harmful effects for those being stereotyped against.
For Further Reading:
Seventeen years after 9/11, Muslims are still ‘presumed guilty’
Muslim Americans’ Responses to Social Identity Threats: Effects of Media Representations and Experiences of Discrimination
‘Thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant?’ Transcending the accuracy inaccuracy dualism in prejudice and stereotyping research
Media Portrayals of Religion: Islam
Hatred in the News: Understanding Stereotypes and How to Avoid Them