Post-9/11 Media Coverage of International News

By Yousef, Asma | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Post-9/11 Media Coverage of International News


Yousef, Asma, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


On June 11, the Pew International Journalism Program hosted a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to examine the impact of Sept. 11 on international news coverage in the U.S. media.

The plenary session focused on findings of the Pew Research Center's biannual news survey conducted among 3,002 adults. The survey examined the impact of Sept. 11 on the habits and interests of Americans in following international news.

Surprisingly, the survey revealed that the news habits of the American public have largely been unaffected by the terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism, although "a slightly larger percentage of the public is expressing general interest in international and national news." This, however, has been limited to occasional news on terrorism and the Middle East, with 4 of 10 Americans paying very close attention to news about the Arab-Israeli conflict. This represents an improvement from previous years.

The public pays relatively little attention to international news, "no matter how serious," the survey found, except for the news on terrorism and events in the Middle East. Interestingly, 48 percent of Americans were able to identify Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians, and 41 percent knew Israel was founded in 1948, while only 29 percent of respondents were able to identify Donald Rumsfield as the U.S. secretary of defense.

The news survey revealed that 16 percent of the American public is considered a "core international news audience" with strong and consistent interest in international news. This group is highly educated and affluent, disproportionately white and male, and nearly half are over the age of 50. Within this group, 6 of 10 say they have traveled abroad, and 4 out of 10 say they either were born elsewhere or have family ties to other countries.

Another session at the day-long conference dealt with views from abroad regarding the American media's performance since Sept. 11. The diverse panel of international journalists included Najam Sethi, co-founder and editor of Pakistan's Friday Times, who stated that, surprisingly, while the news interests of the American people seem to stay the same, their government's foreign policy is becoming increasingly interventionist abroad.

Sethi pointed to the perceived volatility of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan. For example, he noted, prior to Sept. 11, Pervez Musharraf was considered a pariah leader of an insignificant state. As a matter of fact, during his presidential campaign President Bush was unable to name Musharraf as the leader of Pakistan. After the events of 9/11, Sethi said, Musharraf overnight became a "valued friend and ally" of the U.S., enjoying daily phone calls from the president himself.

According to Sethi, a pervasive perception in Pakistan today is that the U.S. media closely adhere to Washington's policy strategies and priorities, with little if any autonomy. Rather than anticipating or interpreting the news, he said, the American press is perceived to be "following the flag." American reporters accompanying U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he added, report U.S. Army briefings rather than actual events on the ground.

When India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons several years ago, Sethi continued, the U.S media allocated little attention to the matter. Kashmir was rarely discussed, even though the conflict had already resulted in the deaths of over 30,000 people in the past decade alone, he added. Although there have in fact been various border confrontations between the two armies, said Sethi, none have been covered so intensely in the U.S. press as the current one.

The change in the attitude of the American press toward this issue, Sethi argued, reflects a belief by the Bush administration that jihad elements in Kashmir with connections to al-Qaeda are attempting to provoke the two countries into a large-scale war to distract the U.S. from pursuing al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. …

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