Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Blog

By Johara Hall
2012 Summer Internship 

According to two researchers at the University of Michigan, yes, it can.

PhysOrg, the popular science and research news website, released a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, suggesting that satiric news coverage as seen in programs such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” has changed the way Americans view Al Jazeera English by decreasing prejudice against Arab Americans and bias against the Qatari-based channel.

Al Jazeera English, ever since its launch in 2006, has not garnered a great deal of American support. Criticized by the Bush administration for its perceived sympathy with extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda, the channel faced ceaseless scrutiny from traditional American media. In addition to its demonization by the White House, many Americans believed the channel is biased and has an anti-American agenda because of its willingness to broadcast Al Qaeda videotapes.

However, Katie Brown and William Youmans, the authors of a new study at the University Of Michigan Department Of Communication Studies said their “research shows that the bias against AJE correlates with prejudice against Arab Americans. In an online experiment, both bias and prejudice decrease among viewers of lighter, comedic news programming.”

The study consisted of a little less than 250 American participants who completed an online survey after having watched particular news clips.  During the first portion of the study, a third of participants watched a “NBC Nightly News" report, another third watched a segment of the “Daily Show”, and the last group watched no clip.

The program clips used in the study “came from 2006 and reported the launch of AJE. Clips included footage of Osama bin Laden, commentary from the Bush administration and discussion of backlash. The reports also mention AJE's inability to find cable distribution in the U.S.”

By using clips of NBC’s "The Nightly News" and Stewart’s "The Daily Show," the authors of the study provided news coverage of the same issues through serious, hard reporting and humorous, satirical reporting, respectively.

After the viewing the first round of news clips, participants were randomly placed in three new conditions. One group watched AJE news coverage of an original clip of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, another watched CNN International of the same re-edited coverage, and the last group watched no video.

After completing the online survey, it appeared that participants in the study who first watched soft news coverage (i.e. the news clippings from “The Daily Show”) were more receptive to AJE, whereas those who watched news clips from NBC’s "The Nightly News" were more likely to have negative responses to the AJE clip.

According to the two researchers, "it seems a one-two punch of a satiric soft news framing of the network and actual exposure to AJE can together overcome antipathy toward AJE.” Brown continued: "given the increased discrimination against Arab-Americans in the wake of the war on terror, this suggests satire can decrease prejudice. Perhaps by laughing at the absurdity of discrimination, we can become more aware of our own prejudices, thus helping open intercultural acceptance."

While prejudice against Arab Americans and bias against Arabic news channels such as Al Jazeera English are unfortunately still alive and well, satiric news may be able to change such sentiments, to some extent. However, the issue of discrimination against Arab Americans in media remains a serious problem. Must we resort to Comedy Central for our news in order to avoid rampant anti-Arab discrimination on mainstream news channels?

Katie Brown and William Youmans’ study is featured in the current issue of Journal of Intercultural Communication Research.

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