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15 Years After 9/11, WA Muslims Seek More Accurate Coverage

The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Seattle received 34 reports of hate crimes against Muslims or those perceived as Muslim. (Seattle City Council/flickr)
The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Seattle received 34 reports of hate crimes against Muslims or those perceived as Muslim. (Seattle City Council/flickr)
September 8, 2016

SEATTLE -- Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In the wake of the tragedy, American-Muslim communities across the country saw a surge of hate speech and hate crimes. And discrimination against these communities has lingered.

Arsalan Bukhari, executive director at Washington state's chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that in 2015, CAIR offices nationwide were the target of the highest number of reported hate crimes in history - amounting to an average of at least one report per day. The state chapter received 34 all year. He said inaccurate coverage of Muslims in the media can harm the community.

"The key message here is that hate speech leads to hate crimes,” Bukhari said. “And also proper context and accurate language in media reporting results in greater understanding. Inaccurate language and loaded context results in hate and prejudice."

Research by the University of Hawaii, University of Exeter and National Hispanic Media Coalition showed that the media can have a direct effect on hate and prejudice against minority groups. A study of prime-time news by Media Tenor found that Islam was mentioned more than any other religion, and that the coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

Bukhari said although anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians has increased during this election season, the media still wields a great deal of power in how Muslims - or people believed to be Muslims - are perceived. He said the uptick in reported hate crimes began in late 2014.

"According to data, this is a trend that started well before the election season,” Bukhari said. "Again, the focus is not necessarily on what elected officials are saying but rather on how media stories and commentary that follows events treat minority groups."

Still, Bukhari said fair-minded politicians have a duty to provide more accurate depictions of American-Muslim communities.

"If lawmakers talked more about the 10,000 American Muslims serving in our nation's armed forces, if they talked about the 50,000 American Muslims who are medical doctors saving lives every day, if they talked more about the everyday lives and contributions,” Bukhari said, "the public would be able to get a more realistic understanding of who their fellow Americans are."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA