Monday, August 13, 2007

The Australian: media contents analysis of Islamic people and countries

This article is a contents analysis of the representation of Islam and Islamic people in The Australian newspaper. The analysis finds that while articles about Muslim countries and people are plentiful, the coverage is skewed both in terms of local news and the types of stories that make the news. These stories more often than not relate to terrorist activities and confirm existing simplistic stereotypes about Islam and Islamic people.


This media contents analysis is based on a diary of news articles about Islam and Islamic people in The Australian newspaper between 30 June 2007 and 14 July 2007. The full list of articles is included in Appendix A at the end of this essay.

The criterion used for inclusion in the analysis was any news article that either predominately featured a Muslim country or Muslim people. Therefore stories about the London / Glasgow attacks and the subsequent arrest of Mohamed Haneef were included even though the locale of these stories was mostly in Australia, the UK and Haneef’s native India. However stories about the Iraq War which were mostly about US or Australian policy or otherwise Western reaction were excluded from the analysis. Op-ed articles and stories that appeared in feature pages were likewise excluded from the analysis. As a result 142 stories were selected for media content analysis.

Literature Review:

This research relies heavily on two academic papers. Waleed Aly’s The Clash of Ignorance is an exploration of how Western culture’s division of Muslims into ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘moderates’ is a misunderstanding that strips Muslims of complex political identities. Arthur Saniotis’s Embodying Ambivalence: Muslim Australians as ‘Other’ examines the pariah status of Muslims in Australia.


Figure 1 below shows the list of main stories that were selected for analysis. The two major stories of the period were the London/Glasgow attacks and the related subsequent detainment of Haneef in the Gold Coast, Australia. Together these accounted for 39.4% of all Muslim related stories during the study period.

Figure 1: Analysis of contents by story type where there were 3 or more articles during the period under review
N= 142

story No of articles Percentage of Total
London/Glasgow attacks 31 21.8
Haneef 25 17.6
Red Mosque siege 11 7.7
Islamic terrorism 8 5.6
Iraq war 8 5.6
Palestine 4 2.8
Alan Johnston 4 2.8
Others 49 34.5

In nearly all of the listed stories above (65.5% of the total) there is an element that equates Islam with terrorism. As the Glasgow Media Group pointed out, news is a cultural artefact – it is a series of socially manufactured messages which carry many of the culturally dominant assumptions of society. Muslim Australians have been consistently marginalised and misrepresented for over one hundred years. The large instance (17.6%) of the Haneef story as terrorist motif (or non-story, given that he was eventually released without charge) shows that little has changed today. Saniotis argues that in the current climate of fear of terrorist attack western discourses continually render Muslims as ‘bogey’ people who must be put in their place. Edward Said believes that it is the fate of Islam to be regarded as a monolithic thing of fear and hostility. Yet away from the clamour of a highly visible extremist minority, Islam is alive is with ideas, debates and discussions on the contemporary and future significance of the religion. Very little of this lively discourse is reflected in Australian news coverage.

According to Waleed Aly, Islam in the post September 11 West has been transformed from a diverse expressed international faith to a narrow political identity. Aly’s argument is that engagements with Muslims are presented in symbolic “fundamentalist” and “moderate” binaries which, he states, becomes an exercise in “crude taxonomy”. This crude taxonomy is demonstrated in figure 2 below which showed the 24% of all headlines contained variations on the pejorative terms of “terror”, “bomber”, “militant”, “radical”, “Islamist” and “jihad”. Aly claims that the nuances and attention to detail afforded to western cultures and traditions are not matched when dealing with Muslim communities. Witness The Australian headline on 11 July “Fifth Aussie held in Lebanon over Islamist links”. It is difficult to imagine a similar headline if the “Aussie” in question had “Christianist links”.

Figure 2 analysis of headline content by keyword

Keyword No of articles Percentage of Total
Terror or terrorist 11 7.7
Bomb or bombers 10 7.0
Militant or militancy 4 2.8
Radical 3 2.1
Islam or Islamist 3 2.1
Jihad or Jihadist 3 2.1
Others 108 76.0

Figure 3 below shows that the value of proximity as a crucial news factor. 35.9% of all Muslim stories were Australian-based. Cultural bias in defining proximity is also an important factor with a further 19% of Muslim stories emanating from the UK. The proximate angle is often used to heighten fear in the newspaper’s readership and turns it into a discourse of ‘matter out of place’. The first sentence in 2 July’s lead story about “Home-grown Jihad threat” stated without attribution that “Up to 3000 young Muslims in Sydney alone are at risk of becoming radicalised by fundamentalist Islam” (The Australian, 2 July 2007, p.1). These 3,000 people, like millions of others worldwide, are being judged by the parameter of their religion.

Figure 3: Analysis of contents by lead country where there were 3 or more articles during the period under review

Country No of articles Percentage of Total
Australia 51 35.9
UK 27 19.0
Pakistan 17 12.0
Iraq 10 7.0
Palestine 9 6.3
Indonesia 7 4.9
Lebanon 6 4.2
Iran 3 2.1
Others 19 13.4

The sample of articles shown in the analysis reveal a tendency for simplistic reporting of Muslims and Muslim countries. Articles about terrorism outweigh political and social matters. Such misrepresentation of Muslims is a process that contributes considerably to ‘Islamophobia’ (Saniotis, 2004, p. 49). The terrorist discourse itself is simplistic and lurid and does little to unpack the complex sociology behind it (Ely, 2006, p.32). Finally the selection of articles is skewed towards an Australian and Anglo-centric bias with very few in-depth articles about Muslim nations in the period under review.

Appendix A: full list of considered articles

date lead country headline story page
30-Jun Australia riddle of sheik's contacts Lebanon arrests 1
30-Jun Australia wife says detained man
no militant Lebanon arrests 4
30-Jun Egypt Egypt moves to ban mutilation FGM 12
30-Jun Palestine mosque not for politics terrorism 12
30-Jun Pakistan teargas disperses a flood of protest cyclone 17
30-Jun UK faithfully honing the killer instinct terrorism 21
2-Jul Australia home-grown jihad threat London/Glasgow attacks 1
2-Jul Australia fifth suspect held in British terror hunt London/Glasgow attacks 1
2-Jul Australia afghan stay will be longer: Downer afghan war 5
2-Jul Australia dangerous liaisons in two countries ties by blood and radical Islam terrorism 5
2-Jul Australia Doctor defies Canberra’s demands for Habib file Habib 5
2-Jul Saudi Arabia barely veiled menace terrorism 10
2-Jul UK UK alert on Iraq-style attacks London/Glasgow attacks 11
2-Jul UK failed bomb left forensic goldmine for detectives London/Glasgow attacks 11
2-Jul UK London suspects home grown London/Glasgow attacks 11
2-Jul Afghanistan coalition assault kills 65 afghans afghan war 12
2-Jul Iran Iran in crisis after cleric's murder cleric murder 12
2-Jul Malaysia Anwar condemns malaysian police state Malaysian politics 13
3-Jul UK terrorist cell not yet neutralised London/Glasgow attacks 7
3-Jul UK London plot led police to Glasgow London/Glasgow attacks 7
3-Jul Palestine Hamas sends 'terror mouse' to martyrdom Hamas Mickey Mouse 8
3-Jul Pakistan nuclear villain 'virtually free' nuclear 8
4-Jul Australia doctors linked to terror plots Haneef 1
4-Jul Australia modern militant recruits himself Haneef 1
4-Jul Australia medic was nothing out of the ordinary Haneef 1
4-Jul Lebanon arms supply charges for Aussies in Beirut Lebanon arrests 1
4-Jul Lebanon charges laid in Beirut Lebanon arrests 1
4-Jul Lebanon boxer freed in Lebanon tells of days of torture Lebanon arrests 8
4-Jul Australia no cause for alarm says pm London/Glasgow attacks/Haneef 8
4-Jul Australia ex-Guantanamo inmate Habib still rated a risk Guantanamo 9
4-Jul Australia doctor passed background checks Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia educated mix of recruits targeted Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia gold coast Muslims in the dark over bomb suspects Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia extended detaining powers sought Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia review of APEC security plans as trade talks begin Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia making charges stick easier said than done Haneef 9
4-Jul Australia bombs aimed at the heart of a democracy London/Glasgow attacks/Haneef 14
5-Jul Australia family reels from dishonour of arrest Haneef 1
5-Jul Australia doctor member of sleeper cell' Haneef 1
5-Jul Australia PM to stand firm on Iraq Iraq war 1
5-Jul Australia Scotland yard to question Haneef Haneef 8
5-Jul Australia bomb link doctor under siege at home Haneef 8
5-Jul Australia Indian officials to meet suspect Haneef 8
5-Jul UK police probe rocks Beatles's peaceful penny lane London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK travellers stranded by bomb scares London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK suspect a student zealot London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK those who cure you will kill you London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK extremists pick professionals brains London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK Scots Muslims rally to fend off backlash London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul UK suspicious gas bottle leads to arrest London/Glasgow attacks 9
5-Jul Malaysia legal bid by Anwar rejected Malaysian politics 10
5-Jul Palestine nightmare is over for BBC hostage Johnston 11
5-Jul Palestine revived Hamas desperate to deliver Johnston 11
5-Jul Pakistan Bhutto vows to take on Pakistani militant red mosque 11
5-Jul Pakistan mosque leaders defy surrender deadline red mosque 11
5-Jul Australia religion is the root cause of terrorist threat Haneef 16
6-Jul Australia police can hold doctor for four days Haneef 7
6-Jul Australia phone calls and family ties focus of global probe Haneef 7
6-Jul Australia justice at risk in climate of fear Haneef 7
6-Jul Australia meeting on Islam no recruitment camp Haneef 7
6-Jul Australia scare unites two leaders London/Glasgow attacks 7
6-Jul UK Glasgow suspects left suicide note London/Glasgow attacks 8
6-Jul Palestine Hamas misses out on wages of peace with west Fatah-Hamas 8
6-Jul Indonesia Indonesian fights Papuans with rape and murder West Papua 9
6-Jul Pakistan red mosque leader caught in escape bid red mosque 9
7-Jul Australia six doctors questioned over terror Haneef 1
7-Jul Australia radical group faces ban London/Glasgow attacks 1
7-Jul Australia hospital staff in protest at racism Haneef 6
7-Jul Australia driver talked of confidential job Haneef 6
7-Jul Australia suspects rejected for state health jobs London/Glasgow attacks 6
7-Jul UK Cambridge trio linked to bombs London/Glasgow attacks 13
7-Jul UK cyber jihad trio get jail London/Glasgow attacks 13
7-Jul UK Glasgow airport attackers both wanted to die say police London/Glasgow attacks 13
7-Jul Palestine Hamas denies paying ransom Johnston 14
7-Jul Pakistan women and kids flee red mosque red mosque 14
7-Jul UK terrorists outmatched London/Glasgow attacks 17
7-Jul Palestine Alan Johnston's release Johnston 30
7-Jul UK shift in terror tactics London/Glasgow attacks 30
9-Jul Australia border security tightened Haneef 1
9-Jul Australia new raids target gold coast doctors Haneef 1
9-Jul Iraq Costello cleans up Nelson's oil spill oil 4
9-Jul Indonesia Indonesia travel alarm terrorism 4
9-Jul Pakistan raid on kingpins too risky Al Qa'ida 11
9-Jul Israel Israel to free 250 Abbas loyalists Fatah-Hamas 11
9-Jul Iraq truck blast one of the deadliest Iraq war 11
9-Jul UK al Qa'ida role in car bombs London/Glasgow attacks 11
9-Jul Pakistan colonel shot dead as full assault on mosque looms red mosque 12
9-Jul Indonesia new Acehnese political party divides former rebel comrades Aceh 13
9-Jul UK why healers turned hands to terror London/Glasgow attacks 15
9-Jul UK moderates need to take on jihadists London/Glasgow attacks 16
9-Jul Australia violent agenda carefully veiled hizb ut-Tahrir 18
10-Jul Australia terror evidence may be lost after police 'bungle' Haneef 1
10-Jul Australia new visa cross-checks ramp up security Haneef 4
10-Jul Indonesia Indonesia irked at fresh travel warning travel warning 4
10-Jul Indonesia Suharto sued for stolen billions Suharto 8
10-Jul UK radical stuff' found in Indian’s homes bomb plot 9
10-Jul Germany interfaith footy kicks goal for peace football match 9
10-Jul Iraq it’s a lost cause so get out now: top us paper Iraq war 9
10-Jul Pakistan cleric calls for Pakistan uprising terrorism 9
11-Jul Pakistan scores die, children flee as troops storm mosque red mosque 1
11-Jul Australia kids pay Hicks jail visit David Hicks 8
11-Jul Australia lawyer's new bid to free Haneef Haneef 8
11-Jul Lebanon fifth Aussie held in Lebanon over Islamist link Lebanon arrests 8
11-Jul USA al Qa'ida 'moving to blast American city with n-bomb' terrorism 8
11-Jul Indonesia Indonesia travel warning 'crying wolf' travel warning 8
11-Jul Palestine Abbas calls for foreign force in the Gaza strip Fatah-Hamas 11
11-Jul Iran Tehran's tunnel to 'protect nuke site' Iran nuclear 11
11-Jul Iraq Iraqi officials warn against early US troop withdrawal Iraq war 11
11-Jul UK plotter helped design air parts London/Glasgow attacks 11
11-Jul Pakistan mosque infested by hardcore militancy red mosque 11
11-Jul Pakistan Musharraf may declare state of emergencyred mosque 11
11-Jul Indonesia alarm in Jakarta at separatist symbols Aceh 12
12-Jul UK Grandma marries son of Bin Laden bin laden 3
12-Jul Australia Downer v Nelson on troops reque st Iraq war 3
12-Jul Australia Iraq-schooled jihadis a threat terrorism 3
12-Jul Australia call of duty throws lawyer in the limelightHaneef 4
12-Jul Australia Indians angry at AFP over Haneef Haneef 4
12-Jul Philippines marines killed in search for priest Abu Sayyef 9
12-Jul Palestine Hamas MPs boycott cancels parliament Fatah-Hamas 9
12-Jul Iran Iran nuclear armed in two years: Israel Iran nuclear 9
12-Jul UK Failed London bombers sentenced to life London/Glasgow attacks 9
12-Jul India car bomb designs on hard drive London/Glasgow attacks 9
12-Jul Pakistan media barred from mosque victims red mosque 9
12-Jul UK al Qa'ida 'to punish' UK over Rushdie Rushdie knighting 9
13-Jul Australia I am not a terrorist: doctor Haneef 1
13-Jul Australia Reasons to hold Haneef stretch thinner by the day Haneef 1
13-Jul Australia politics may have steered course Haneef 2
13-Jul Australia blast car driver not man who applied for health job London/Glasgow attacks 2
13-Jul Australia crunch time for doctor Haneef 2
13-Jul Iraq Iraq team hold together as their land is torn apartAsian cup 3
13-Jul Iraq Iraq bank's $350m theft Iraq 10
13-Jul Iraq Basra blames British for big,bad man-eating…badgersIraq war 10
13-Jul Pakistan Al Qa’ida regroups in Pakistan to pre-9/11 levels al Qa’ida 11
13-Jul Pakistan mosque bodies may be women, kids red mosque 11
13-Jul Libya US ends 35-year Libya freeze US-Libya relationship 11

1 comment:

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