Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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Knox case coverage reveals single sided media

A student told me about a professor who, on the first day of class, held up a book with a blue cover. He told the class, “This book is green.” The class, seeing the blue cover, disagreed, but the professor persisted. After a few minutes, the professor spun the book around to reveal a green back cover.

Media consumers worldwide are a bit like these students—seeing only green, they have a hard time imagining a different perspective. As Americans, this means that we have difficulty seeing things from an African or Asian perspective, and vice-versa. This phenomenon underlies a key precept of peace journalism—that reporters should offer context while presenting multiple perspectives.

An example is the media furor over American Amanda Knox, convicted of murder in Italy—a conviction upheld in Italian courts last week. The differences in how European and American media are covering this case reveal the media’s power to reinforce rigid perspectives.

There is ample evidence to reach a conclusion that a majority of the U.S. media have taken Knox’s side. “To some Americans, especially those in her hometown of Seattle, Amanda Knox seems a victim, unfairly hounded by a capricious legal system in Italy that convicted her this week in the death of a 21-year-old British woman.” (AP, Feb. 1, 2014) Other headlines scream “The Italian Justice System is Insane—Amanda Know is Completely Innocent.” (Slate, Feb. 2, 2014). Much of the U.S. coverage focused in how Knox plans to resist extradition. “I'm going to fight this until the very end. And it's not right, and it's not fair and I'm going to do everything that I can," she told ABC News' "Good Morning America" last Friday.” (Chicago Tribune, Jan. 31, 2014).

Jump across the pond, where “The tone of some British newspaper coverage reflected skepticism about Knox's protestations of innocence. 'Shameless in Seattle' was the front-page headline on Saturday's Daily Mail, which referred to Knox's "brazen TV charm offensive to escape extradition…The Rome daily La Repubblica wrote Friday that the third verdict confirms that the case "from the very beginning has been judged more on the basis of sensation than actual evidence." (AP, Feb. 1, 2014).

What’s noteworthy from a peace journalism perspective about the Knox coverage is this: Europeans are getting a steady diet of the guilty, spoiled rich American angle, while in the U.S., we’re hearing primarily about how the decrepit Italian justice system is persecuting an innocent young lady.
What’s unfortunate is that this “our side-their side” media model is replicated worldwide in matters much more serious than the fate of one young woman. If you’ve ever seen or heard the hatred spewed against “the other side” in Middle East media, for example, you’d never wonder why conflicts there seem so intractable. In some places in Africa, radio tirades against “them” help reinforce traditional hatreds. In the U.S., bile disgorged by Fox and MSNBC make political compromise much more difficult.

The peace journalism solution asks for a more balanced, thoughtful media that provides context and perspective, and, most importantly, voices from “the other side” that can allow us to consider the possibility that our adversaries may have legitimate concerns--in essence, to help us understand that it's possible for a blue book to also be green.

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