Media reluctant to label far-right as terrorist

Date: 
April, 2019

Muslim extremists are three times more likely to be labelled as terrorists by the media than far-right extremists, according to a recent study. 

The research undertaken by Signal AI analyzed media coverage, including radio broadcasts and TV transcripts, on a number of terrorist attacks that had taken place in the last two years and came to the conclusion that there is a consistent reluctance by media organizations to identify right-wing extremists as terrorists.

In a study of over 200,000 global news articles, the analysis found that Muslim extremists were labelled terrorists 78.4% of the time. However, right-wing extremists were identified as terrorists only 23.6% of the time.

“Both in terms of the language used, and the quantity of coverage, media treatment of differing forms of extremism is skewed. A Muslim can be expected to be immediately labelled a terrorist, whilst the media is hesitant to apply this term to white people,” the research body said in its publication released on April 3.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, in which 50 Muslim worshippers were slaughtered by a far-right terrorist, Signal AI found that of the articles analyzed, 90,000 articles made no links between the attack and terrorism and over 40% of global coverage had not labelled the attack as an act of terrorism.

The research compared the coverage of the Christchurch attack and five other far-right attacks to those of Muslim extremist attacks in the last 15 months. For far-right attacks, the term "terrorism" was not used 84.1% of times.

The results were described as “striking, if uncomfortably unsurprising” and that it is evident that media coverage on Muslim attacks is largely different to that of far-right attacks.

“The belief that the media treats terrorism unequally depending on the background of the attacker is grounded in the numbers. In the attacks studied, articles on Islamic extremism did not mention terrorism one quarter of the time. Articles on far-right attackers did not mention terrorism three quarters of the time. This is an issue that will apply to media in all topics, not simply terrorism,” the analysis said.

“No media outlet can be taken as an impartial source, each weave their own preconceptions and biases into narratives regardless of the topic.”

The analysis, however, also found that in the case of the Christchurch attack, media outlets, unusually, were willing to label the right-wing extremist as a terrorist attack as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had declared the incident an act of terrorism within six hours of it taking place. Such a decision, which has been described as bold, caused the media to follow her lead.

This is in contrast to world leaders, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who are reluctant to label far-right attacks as acts of terror and as such the media in turn follows suit. One example given is that of the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue terrorist incident in which Trump described the attack as an act of murder. 

According to research conducted by the Independent newspaper, far-right extremism is growing in the U.K. and white British people are more likely to sympathize with extremism than those of Asian Muslim descent. The government has been warned to not solely focus on Muslim oriented extremism as far-right extremism is an increasing threat.

Source: AA