“Muslims are not Terrorists”: Islamic State Coverage, Journalistic Differentiation Between Terrorism and Islam, Fear Reactions, and Attitudes Toward Muslims

Previous research shows that news about Islamist terrorism can seriously affect citizens’ fear reactions and influence non-Muslims’ out-group perceptions of Muslims. We argue that news coverage that explicitly links Islam to terrorism or terrorists of the Islamic State (IS) may trigger fears in non-Muslim individuals. In contrast, news differentiation (i.e., explicitly distinguishing between Muslims and Muslim terrorists) may dampen particular fear reactions in citizens. To test the specific effects of news differentiation, a controlled laboratory experiment was conducted. Results showed that undifferentiated news about IS terrorism increased participants’ fear of terrorism and resulted in hostile perceptions toward Muslims in general. However, fear of terrorism only enhanced hostile attitudes toward Muslims for individuals with negative and moderately positive prior experiences with Muslims. For those with very positive experiences, no such relationship was found. Implications of these findings for journalism practice and intergroup relations in multicultural societies are discussed.

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Author information

Christian von Sikorski

Christian von Sikorski (Ph.D., German Sport University Cologne, 2014), is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna as well as a visiting professor of media psychology in the Institute for Communication Psychology and Media Education at the University of Koblenz-Landau. His research interests include media effects, research methods, and online and visual communication with a special interest in terrorism news coverage and political scandals.

Desirée Schmuck

Desirée Schmuck (Ph.D., University of Vienna, 2017), is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. Her research interests include the effects of political communication with a special interest in right-wing populism and terrorism news coverage.

Jörg Matthes

Jörg Matthes (Ph.D., University of Zurich, 2007) is a professor of communication science in and the director of the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. His research interests include advertising effects, the process of public opinion formation, news framing, and empirical methods.

Alice Binder

Alice Binder (M.A., University of Vienna, 2016) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. Her research interests include political participation and children and media.

M. Waqas Abdullah

Husband | A proud father to a princess | Technoholic | Computers | Programming | Pak Activist | PsyOps | Founder NazariaPakistan.com

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