Islamist attackers three times more likely to be called ‘terrorists’ than far-right in media, research finds

Study of 200,000 articles in 80 different languages found only a quarter of stories about attacks by far-right perpetrators mentioned terrorism

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 11 April 2019 09:40 BST
Politicians around the world condemn Christchurch terror attack

Isis-inspired attackers are three times more likely to be described as “terrorists” than white supremacists and far-right killers, research has suggested.

Analysis showed that Islamists were called terrorists in 78 per cent of news coverage, but far-right extremists were only identified using the label in 27 per cent of articles.

“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 from media monitor Signal AI concluded.

“Reporting on Islamic extremist attacks is quantifiably different to reporting on far-right attacks … the gap is vast.”

Researchers called the overall findings “striking but uncomfortably unsurprising”.

However, they found the Christchurch shooting was an “exception” to the rule, and showed the power politicians wield over public discourse.

Analyst Ben Moore told The Independent global news reports were influenced by the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s swift and public classification of the mosque massacres as a terrorist attack.

“These trends may well begin outside of the media, who follow the example of leaders in the language they use,” he added.

“I suggest that actually politicians in particular can play a role in shaping the narrative around these events.”

Mr Moore compared coverage of the Christchurch attack to the shooting that left 11 victims dead at a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh in October.

He said that although the atrocities shared many similarities, both being carried out by white supremacists at places of worship, the global news coverage has been dramatically different.

“I think the main difference may be that Donald Trump did not call Pittsburgh an act of terror,” he added.

Many news outlets rely on the information given by police or the government in the immediate aftermath of attacks, and the classification of terrorism and speed with which it is used varies from country to country.

The research found that terrorism is less likely to be used as a label on television and radio, potentially for brevity, than in written articles.

The analysis analysed more than 200,000 articles, in 80 different languages and covering 11 different attacks over the past 15 months.

They included Isis-inspired atrocities in France, Britain, US and Sweden, and white supremacist attacks in the US and Canada.

Only a quarter of articles on the Islamist atrocities made no mention of terrorism, but the average for far-right attacks stood at 76 per cent.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

“The belief that the media treats terrorism unequally depending on the background of the attacker is grounded in the numbers,” the research concluded.

It came amid increasing warnings over the global rise of far-right extremism.

In Britain, security services are taking an increasing role into investigations, which were previously classified as “domestic extremism” and left to stretched police.

The change came after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox and Finsbury Park attack, while another man was jailed for planning to bomb a mosque on Wednesday.

Security services say Islamist terrorism still presents the biggest danger to Britain, but the far-right threat is rising as both sides “feed off each other”.

At least 14 Islamist and four far-right plots have been foiled since March 2017.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in