OTAGO, New Zealand — The recent travel ban put in place by President Donald Trump has led many Americans to defend Muslim immigrants, but the sentiment might not be so strong for those glued to the cable news networks. That’s because news junkies — whether they lean right or left — are more likely to feel greater anger and less compassion towards Muslims, a new study finds.
Researchers from the University of Otago examined data from 16,584 people who participated in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a 20-year longitudinal project that began in 2009 and evaluates how social attitudes, personalities, and health change over time.
The team found New Zealand to be a good fit for examining views of Muslims and Islamophobia because people from the country — often referred to as “Kiwis” — are known to be very tolerant of other cultures and religions.
“People tend to interpret the news in ways that fit with their pre-existing biases, seeking affirmation of their beliefs while discounting conflicting information,” says lecturer Dr. John Shaver, the article’s lead author, in a university news release. “If anything, tolerant Kiwis might tend to reject intolerant stereotypes, reducing the effect of the media.”
As it turned out, however, people who frequently watched the news showed more prejudiced towards Muslims — whether or not they were liberals or conservatives. Dr. Shaver argues that media exposure fuels the bias that people feel.
“This indicates that it is widespread representations of Muslims in the news that is contributing to lower Muslim acceptance, rather than any partisan media bias,” he says. “The media, regardless of politics, tend to publish violent stories because violence sells.”
Professor Joseph Bulbulia, a co-author of the study and professor at Victoria University of Wellington, says Muslims may find themselves victims of prejudice as a result of the growing anger. He hopes the study will push media outlets to air or publish stories that also paint Muslims in a more positive light.
“Though un-making prejudice is difficult,” he says, “we hope these results challenge the media to present fairer representations of Muslims.”