Scholars suggested that over-exposure to stereotypes increased the amount of bias to the point where a race-danger association caused respondents in a simulated computer game to shoot on the basis of bias (Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B., 2007). Further, Pronin, Kennedy, and Butsch (2006) concluded that whether terrorists are perceived as rational or irrational the choice to respond may be different; in the former, the action may be diplomacy, in the latter, the response may be to attack. Moreover, these researchers learned that perceptions were influenced by “contextual factors such as media portrayals” (Pronin, Kennedy, & Butsch, 2006). In lieu of these discoveries, what we perceive … we tend to believe or act on.
People are quick to point out that others are biased or irrational especially when they do NOT agree with the other person’s views, opinions, or activities (Pronin, Kennedy, & Butsch, 2006). So, in an age where the mainstream media outlets are more polarized either to the left or to the right, how do Americans find fair and balanced news? We must encourage Americans to practice their media literacy skills. This will help them take control of the media messages they absorb—thus, providing them with a clearer perspective (Potter, 2008).
Let’s talk about perspective. Perception is about proximity and your proximity depends on your vantage point. Picture this: you witness an accident at a busy intersection along with 14 other people. In essence, you have:
Each will have a story.
Each will be right.
This is precisely why—in a court of law—it is so important to have as many eyewitnesses as possible. The same goes for perspective and media literacy. How can you gain perspective? Look for different angles, check out different sources, and do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Because, how you perceive an event depends on what you see?
For example, try out new sources, “Credibility is not inherent in a source, but rather it is a perception held by audience members” (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008, p. 341). Step away from networks you rely on like Fox News, CNN, PBS, or MSNBC and see how other news outlets frame events like Al Jazeera, BBC, or Al-Arabiya. Media literacy is all about exposure to a variety of media sources that will provide us the basis from which to build our own perspective.
When Al-Jazeera entered the transnational television scene, critics claimed it was slanted against the U.S., that it disobeyed Arab customs and politics, and cozied up to terrorists (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008). On the contrary, supporters saw that it had a hard-hitting style, refused to be a mouthpiece for Arab regimes, and that it provided an accurate and balanced Arab perspective (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008).
To that end, Johnson & Fahmy (2008) research rendered the following perspectives:
— Al -Jazeera viewers see the satellite news network as “their most trusted source of news” (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008, p. 338).
— Survey “respondents rated the credibility of Al-Jazeera higher than CNN, BBC and local Arab media” (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008, p. 349).
— in the Arab world, people see Al-Jazeera as a network that is “advancing the concept of a free press” (Johnson & Fahmy, 2008, p. 355).
Further, Matar (2006) interviewed Palestinians in the UK after September 11, 2001; here are some actual quotes about how they felt after viewing the news on Arabic and other satellite news channels:
“I like to watch Al-Jazeera and Al-Manar. The news is very interesting and…you feel they say what is in my heart and express what is in my mind.”
(Female respondent; interview, 14th February 2002; p. 1032).
“I feel that the event is being used by the Israelis…[The United States] are trying their best to target the Palestinians. This event has absolutely changed Palestinian lives.”
(Christian Palestinian; interview, 18th January 2002; p. 1033).
“I watch the news and live with the story. I live with it. I imagine myself there and feel as though they (the Israelis) have hit me, killed me. Those children are like my children. I am always there (in Palestine).”
(60-year-old Muslim female; interview, 25 March 2002; p. 1037).
Two other scholars, Harb and Bessaiso (2006), interviewed British Arab Muslim’s after the infamous September 11 and came up with similar results. They suggested that the “availability of Arab satellite television channels in Britain enabled the respondents to see news that bolstered existing perspectives and a sense of Arab Muslim identity” (p. 1063). Since most American and Western media outlets tend to brand Muslims as terrorists, patriarchal, and sexist, it is imperative that the Muslim world have a venue to argue from their perspective (Harb & Bessaiso, 2006).
According to Hugh Miles, author of Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel that is Challenging the West., the fact that differing and opposing groups have criticized the channel suggests that it is balanced and credible (Moussa, 2007; Aday, Livingston, & Hebert, 2005). Miles also pointed out that Al-Jazeera contributed to the liberalization of Arab media by prompting the Arab Rulers who controlled their national television stations to take on a more professional Al-Jazeera look in order to keep their viewers (Moussa, 2007). Miles also acknowledged that Al-Jazeera covered the Iraq War with more balance and “critical journalism” than did it’s Western counterparts (Moussa, 2007, p. 150).
In sum, Westerners should sample the Arab perspective as part of their media literacy protocol. The reality is…not all Arabs are Muslims. Some are Christians, some are also Jews. Each have their own perspective and it is our responsibility to try our level-best to see as many perspectives as possible. It is especially imperative in the increasingly polarized media environment we exist in today. Of course, it is also important for Arabs to supplement their media menu with news from a different perspective, as well.