A new study of TV news broadcasts finds that Muslims are overrepresented in reports as terrorists and Latinos as criminal immigrants. African-Americans, on the other hand, are underrepresented in news reports as both victims and perpetrators of crime, according to a recent study by University of Illinois professor Travis Dixon.
Among Dixon’s findings were that 81 percent of terrorists in news reports were labeled as Muslim, compared to the 6 percent that are identified as such in FBI reports, reported Illinois radio station WUIS. An overwhelming 97 percent of immigrants in the country illegally and accused of crimes were labeled Latino. Yet figures kept by the Department of Homeland Security indicate that just 60 percent of undocumented immigrants are Latino.
African-Americans were 48 percent of victims in national crime reports, compared to 22 percent of victims in news accounts; and they were 39 percent of perpetrators arrested between 2008 and 2012, compared to 19 percent of offenders in TV news, according to Dixon's study. Those findings contradict previous analyses, and even some of Dixon’s, WUIS reported.
Last month, a Media Matters analysis of network news broadcasts in New York found that four stations gave disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects. The Media Matters study looked at broadcasts between Aug. 18 and Dec. 31, 2014. The stations' weeknight news broadcasts covered murder, theft, and assault cases in which African-Americans were suspects at a higher rate than the actual rate at which they are arrested for those crimes in New York City.
Dixon, who used media archives from the University of California at Los Angeles from 2008 to 2012, said even after accounting for contradictions in the studies, TV broadcasters struggle with accurately representing minorities.
“The reality is that the news doesn’t always give us this picture of the way the world should be or is,” Dixon said. “Talk about crime in a way that is accurate. You can’t make those determinations as a citizenry unless you have good information.”
Dixon also said the skewed representation was a roadblock to progress on racial equality and combating discrimination. “What it does from a policy position is that it obscures our ability to devise solutions to problems,” Dixon said. “If we think that all of the criminals are black or all the victims are white, we are not able to talk about victims in a broad way that addresses it for all the communities involved.”