November 28, 2012

Arab-American Media

Covering the Arab Uprisings in the Arab-American Community

When the "Arab Spring" protests began, the mainstream U.S. news media reacted quickly.  Indeed, the protests generated the most U.S. news coverage of any international story measured since the Project for Excellence in Journalism began monitoring news media coverage in January 2007. That coverage peaked during the week of January 31 to February 6, 2011, when the Arab uprisings filled 54% of the newshole PEJ studied in 52 different major U.S. media outlets.[1]

However, U.S. news coverage of the Arab uprisings dropped off sharply after the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.S./NATO intervention in Libya. In February 2011, the uprising in Egypt made up 22% of the U.S. newshole studied. That fell to below 5% in any given month afterward. Libya accounted for 27% in March 2011. It largely vanished thereafter, only reaching 8% in August when Gaddafi’s compound was seized in September 2011. Syria has garnered even less of the U.S. media’s attention, reaching 7% of the newshole in February 2012 when the U.S. embassy was closed after two Western journalists were killed in Homs.[2] 

When the mainstream U.S. media’s attention shifted away from the uprisings, Arab-American media were presented with an opportunity to fill that void. The Arab-American community increasingly turned to Arab-American sources for news on "the homeland" during the height of the uprisings, leading outlets to increase coverage as the events progressed, said Manneh of New America Media.[3] 

As Arab-American media work to provide more coverage of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, it is at times challenging to stay removed from the politics. The events a news organization chooses to cover or wire stories they carry, according to Manneh, can portray the outlet’s political leanings.[4] This is not necessarily criticized by their readers. Instead, it is sometimes members of the Arab-American community who pressure news outlets to cover events in certain ways.

Atieh Bakhit of Al Enteshar said that she has been pressured by members of her community to change the newspaper’s coverage and that advertisers in the paper were threatened with boycotts. "We have our own opinions how to cover [events]," she said, "and that’s what… the first part of the constitution said-you have the freedom [of] speech, you have the freedom of press. But when somebody wants to pressure you or is threatening you to write what exactly they want, that’s not going to work here."[5]

Each uprising creates a different set of issues in news coverage, depending on the background of the Arab-American community in an area. Siblani of The Arab American News emphasized his paper’s objective to cover both sides of a story, despite any pressure to do otherwise.[6]

Some outlets, such as Aramica, cover demonstrations at home and events in the Middle East and North Africa, but tend not to focus on the more divisive situations, as in Syria.[7] Other outlets choose to strictly cover the responses and reactions of Arab Americans to the uprisings, rather than focusing on the events unfolding abroad.[8]


Footnotes

[1] Sartor, Tricia. "The Arab Spring Wilts in the Media." PEJ. June 2, 2011.

[2] Anderson, Monica. "What Happened to Coverage of the ‘Arab Spring?’ " PEJ. April 13, 2012.

[3] Mansour, Samuel. Interview with PEJ. Sept. 7, 2012.

[4] Manneh, Suzanne. Interview with PEJ. Aug. 13, 2012.

[5] Atieh Bakhit, Fatmeh. Interview with PEJ. Sept. 4, 2012.

[6] Siblani, Osama. Interview with PEJ. Aug. 24, 2012.

[7] Faisal, Antoine. Interview with PEJ, Sept. 1, 2012.

[8] David, Warren. Interview with PEJ. Aug. 31, 2012.