De Vreese, C.H., University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of the prime concerns in the aftermath of September 11 was the impact of the subsequent saturation of news on public perceptions of immigrants. Making use of a unique opportunity to work with the national Dutch news organization [NOS Journal], this study investigates if and how visuals and commentary in television news evoke emotions about foreigners and the Islam and in how this contributes to perceptions of and tolerance towards immigrants in the home country. We conducted an experiment with news stories about the attack edited specifically for this study. 84 persons (60% males, age 15-67 with varying levels of education) participated in the experiment. We included three conditions between which the use of visuals and journalistic commentary was manipulated. A control group was exposed to a news story without controversial visuals. The two experimental groups both viewed the same news story that contained controversial visuals, but varied in terms of the tone of the journalistic commentary. The controversial visuals were images of Palestine citizens allegedly celebrating the attack on the US. Our dependent measures include (1) open- ended thought listing procedures (tapping immediate responses to perceptions of immigrants in the Netherlands and the Islam), (2) emotional reactions to the events, and (3) tolerance towards various groups of immigrants in the Netherlands. The study was carried out in the first days of October 2001. Data analysis is currently taking place and the results of the study cannot be reported at this point. The study is particularly important because anecdotal evidence from different places in the world, suggest that peaceful foreigners in many countries were held responsible for the attacks. With the backdrop of the Netherlands - renowned as a multi-cultural society in Europe - many were chocked to experience the reactions towards immigrants. Television news, and controversial images in particular, play a key role in activating and shaping public attitudes towards immigrants. The findings of this study will be discussed in the light of the impact of news on perceptions of immigrants and professional standards for the use of visuals in television news.