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by Alyssa Nickles

Yesterday Peter Laufer and Julianne Newton from the School of Journalism and Communication led an Intercultural Conversation entitled Perceptions of Islam and the Media. During the conversation, University faculty and students discussed the influence the media has on the public perception of Islam in the United States.

The conversation opened with a clip from the Colbert Report, which created satire of a poll that suggested President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Following the clip, Professor Newton posed the question: Why is the American public under the impression that it would be bad to have a Muslim president?  The answer lies in the media’s presentation of Islam.

Professor Laufer suggested America’s hostile opinion of Muslims can be attributed to right-wing media outlets, such as FOX News and The Glenn Beck Program.  Shows like these that are more invested in presenting distorted facts for entertainment value, than providing legitimate news have charged an anti-Islamic trend throughout the country. Most notable of this movement was the highly publicized “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

In an age where media’s messages are constantly contradicting one another, how can you filter out the truth from the falsities? Professor Newton offered one solution—media literacy.  Media literacy entails deeply analyzing the messages a medium is sending. To do so, one must look deeper than face value and take into account who is writing, presenting, funding, and producing these messages, all while considering the principle market for the messages.

The Intercultural Conversation helped me realize the importance of challenging the idea that news is truth and factual. Failure to do so will have dire repercussions, as the public will digest these inaccurate messages and spread their ignorance and lies.  Members of the Muslim community have already fallen victims of this pattern. Only through media literacy will the American public be able to combat the widespread hostility towards the Islamic culture.

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