Can Al Jazeera English Leverage its 'Egypt Moment' into an American Audience?
Our sample includes 177 Americans recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online survey community, who participated in exchange for $0.25 or $0.50. The mean participant age was 30.29, with a range of 17 to 67. About 66 percent of the participants were female. The average participant (59 percent) lived in a suburb, though 22 percent described their residential area as “urban” and 19 percent as “rural.” The average participant has completed some college coursework. Half of the participants identified as Christian, 17 percent as agnostic, and 13 percent as atheist. The majority of participants (80 percent) were white. Other ethnicities represented include Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (10 percent), African-Americans (4 percent), Latino/as (4 percent), and Arab-American (less than 1 percent). The mean political ideology on a 7-point scale was 3.45, or moderate. The vast majority of participants (98 percent) do not watch AJE or CNNI regularly. However, CNNI was the most popular source of TV news among respondents (18 percent), followed by Fox News (16 percent).
Participants completed the study online. The first part of the study included several questions about their news viewing habits. Participants were then6 randomized into one of three conditions: AJE, CNNI, or control. Participants in the AJE and CNNI conditions viewed a news story about the Taliban and its position towards peace talks with the government in Kabul that originally aired on AJE.7 The clip did not mention the United States nor depict any American forces or figures. AJE markings were removed and replaced with CNNI branding for the CNNI condition. Those in the control condition did not watch a video. Participants were then asked to indicate how biased and trustworthy they would rate AJE and CNNI and their intention to watch AJE and CNN, all on a 7-point Lichert scale. Participants were also asked “If your local cable company was considering carrying Al Jazeera English (CNN International), would you have a preference or try to influence its decision?”, with 5 options ranging from “I would directly pressure the company in support of carrying Al Jazeera English (CNN International)” to “I would directly pressure the company against carrying Al Jazeera English (CNN International).” Participants first answered the questions for whichever news condition they were in and then the other network, presented in a brief description as a competing news station. The order of network question presentation in the control group was counter-balanced such that half answered AJE questions first, while half saw CNNI questions first; no differences were found between responses across these two groups, indicating no ordering effects. Participants were then asked to indicate which network they would trust more for news about the Arab world. Next, we gauged Arab-American prejudice using questions adapted from Bushman and Bonacci’s (2004) Arab-American Prejudice scale, an 11-question inventory reduced in the present study to six questions under Bushman’s guidance. Participants were then asked if they believed “AJE represents an Arab outlook on the news.” Three questions about the events in Egypt came next, all answered on a 5-point Lichert scale: Do you sympathize with the Egyptians who protested and overthrew their leader Hosni Mubarak, a long time ally of the United States?; Do you think American foreign policy, including its military presence in the Middle East, is helping to spread democracy to Egypt and other countries in this region?; and Do you think that Al Jazeera as a network contributed to the protests against Egypt's President Mubarak? Finally, all participants answered basic demographic questions, including political ideology, and were debriefed.
The bias questions yielded the most significant differences. As illustrated by Figure 1, the bias ratings for AJE differed between
conditions. Those who viewed the clip marked as AJE ranked the station as less biased than those in the control and CNNI
1 For ease of reading purposes, Al Jazeera English is referred to as “AJE” and Al Jazeera’s flagship Arabic channel is shortened to “AJ.”
2 Some of AJE’s programs, including its hour-long news bulletin, are carried on various public and local access channels, as well as by Pacifica radio, in a patchwork of places around the country.
4 Trends suggest, however, that cable subscriptions are slowly declining annually, while the number of those viewing online increases.
5 The term “prejudice” is used literally in this analysis to mean to the use of pre-conceived associations, judgments or presumptions that impact one’s evaluation of some given thing. The more popular connotation refers to unfairly negative views of other people or social groups (Dovidio, 2001: 829), but we use the term here in relation to a brand and news network.
6 This study is part of a larger experiment that included a clip condition administered before the clip condition presented here. All results presented were not influenced by the first clip condition and so we focus here on the procedures relevant to the present paper.
7 “Taliban 'rejects' Afghan peace offer,” uploaded to YouTube on June 6, 2010, was filed by James Bays, an AJE correspondent who reported from both Kabul and Baghdad. The video is posted at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZnBrniJGDg
8 Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) is a statistical method for testing whether the means of two or more groups are equal – whether the groups are on average different.
9 There is a marginal effect of a condition not discussed in the present paper.
10 Political ideology and Arab American prejudice also correlate (r = .38, < .001), such that conservatism and prejudice increase in tandem.
11 It should be noted that some conservative websites lauded AJE. For example, the Drudge Report site (http://www.drudgereport.com/) kept a link to AJE at the top during the Egypt protest coverage in early 2011.