There is significant homophobic and transphobic bias in media in the Arab world, but there are also some hopeful signs, according to a study by OutRight Action International, which is working on a training program to improve coverage.
For several months, OutRight and its partners in the Middle East and North Africa monitored Arabic-language media in the regions, including local and national newspapers, radio, TV, and social media. “We found overwhelming evidence of derogatory terminology, hate speech inspired by religious doctrine, medical misinformation, and legal fallacies being used to describe LGBTIQ people,” an OutRight press release notes.
Among the findings: Out of 332 articles analyzed, 260 contained derogatory terms to describe LGBTIQ people; some common words used to describe LGBTIQ people basically mean “faggots,” “sinners,” “immoral,” and “devil worshippers”; 45 percent of the articles concerned incidents of arrest, detention, or trials of LGBTIQ people; fewer than 10 stories were about violence against LGBTIQ people; and more hate speech against LGBTIQ people was found on online platforms than in print media.
Exceptions came in celebrity coverage, said Nazeeha Saeed, OutRight’s Arabic media coordinator. “While most of the reporting is very negative and even derogatory, there are a few noteworthy exceptions,” she said in the press release. “For example, when media reported on singer Ricky Martin’s engagement to a Syrian boyfriend, the language was surprisingly neutral. I think the reason is that foreign musicians and artists are given more leeway in society — and so the reporting also becomes more accepting.”
OutRight is developing a media training for Arab journalists to correct misunderstandings and promote the use of the same neutral terminology used by the United Nations. The study and the training program have been financed by an individual donor.