Muslim extremists 3 times more likely to be called ‘terrorist’ than far-right counterparts

26th Apr 2019

Nadine Osman

Global media is three times more likely to label violent Muslim extremists as terrorists than their far-right counterparts, according to research released this month.

The two-year long analysis by Signal AI published on April 3 found significant reluctance by the media to brand right-wing extremists as terrorists.

The research, which includes combing over 200,000 global news articles, found Muslim perpetrators were labelled terrorists 78.4 per cent of the time, while right-wing extremists were identified as terrorists only 23.6 per cent 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.

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 analysed, 90,000 articles made no links between the attack and terrorism and over 40 per cent of 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 per cent 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 weaves their own preconceptions and biases into narratives regardless of the topic.”

The analysis found an exception in the case of the New Zealand 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. In contrast, US President, Donald Trump, was reluctant to label far-right attacks as acts of terror and as such the media follows suit. One example given is that of the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue terrorist incident in which Trump described the attack as “murder.”

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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