By Beth Brown
Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, spoke Monday evening at the Evans Auditorium about media bias, Muslim rage and the role of geography in media consumption.
Zuckerman is a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Global Voices, an international community of bloggers that make up a citizen media. He has been named one of the the most Influential Thinkers in the world by Foreign Policy and addressed Texas State students, faculty and staff as part of the 2012 “Global Odyssey” common experience theme.
Zuckerman’s lecture, titled “The Internet: Power and Unrealized Potential,” used Newsweek as an example of media bias. The now-online news outlet ran a cover story in their final print edition with a picture of rioting Muslims and the headline “Muslim Rage.” Zuckerman showed videos and images of Muslim violence that were depicted across American news outlets at the time, including the cover of Newsweek.
Then he juxtaposed that depiction with the true history leading to Newsweek’s cover, which included a dubbed film from Nakoula Bassley, anti-Islam figures pastor Terry Jones and Morris Sadek and a film of Benghazi citizens attempting to save U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
“This idea of Muslim rage is very photogenic, but it’s an extreme depiction of Muslim rage,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman also contended that all media have multiple biases, including political, geographical and timely.
He said some of the biggest and most important news in the world unfolds slowly over long amounts of time, so the trends can become clouded with 24-hour news cycles and daily newspapers focusing on the day’s top news. He said large issues, such as global warming, can be difficult to track on a daily basis.
“The really big stories unfold over a very long amount of time, such as global warming” Zuckerman said. “It tends to unfold very, very slowly.”
Media consumption is also limited by geography. Readers tend to consume news that they are familiar with, so chronically under-covered areas of the world such as the Sahara tend to get little media coverage from national outlets such as The New York Times. He said media tend to focus their coverage locally and readers tend to look for information that pertains to their “tribe,” or the people and area they identify with.
Zuckerman said this type of media consumption is “unhelpful… because the biggest issues (such as climate change) are not local.”
One of those in attendance Monday night was Karima Baqdounes, architecture freshman. She said she will now consume media with a certain level of skepticism and consider bias in the reporting and gatekeeping of news outlets.
“He made a lot of good points,” Baqdounes said. “My dad is from the Middle East, and I remember when 9/11 happened there was a lot of misinterpretations.”