Friday, March 25, 2016

March Madness? Media Equates Violent Extremism with Islam

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

An AFSC study ranks the sources most often quoted in news coverage that links violence and extremism to a particular religion. (Daniel R. Blume/Flickr)
An AFSC study ranks the sources most often quoted in news coverage that links violence and extremism to a particular religion. (Daniel R. Blume/Flickr)
PHILADELPHIA – While sports fans are focused on the "Elite Eight" of college basketball, new research reveals a more somber ranking – of eight media sources that link violent extremism to a single religion.

The study by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) found the number-one source of quotes linking Islam to violence isn't experts, but other journalists or media outlets.

Beth Hallowell, AFSC communications research director, calls that a dangerous equation.

"Part of the reason this was so disturbing to us was that we saw articles that even covered Islam when religion was not at stake," said Hallowell.

The study found that Islam is mentioned in media coverage of violent extremism more than 90 percent of the time. According to Hallowell, there is a similar bias in media coverage of the responses to conflict.

"There was a five-to-one ratio in coverage of violent responses to conflict, versus nonviolent responses," she explained. "So, there was a real imbalance in how conflict responses were covered."

Hallowell said the media's increasing emphasis on violence has made it more difficult for those promoting nonviolent conflict resolution to get their message across.

She pointed out that some public figures have been quick to exploit violent, media-driven stereotypes, further feeding a vicious cycle.

"Our national discourse is at an all-time low when it comes to violence, race, religion and so forth," she stressed. "And so, we really want to encourage journalists and advocates to work together to change that narrative."

The AFSC is calling on the media to explore the history and root causes of violent extremism, rather than simply perpetuating violent stereotypes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

PA House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
Lolly Bentch and her daughter, who is diagnosed with mesial temporal sclerosis. (Lolly Bentch)
Lolly Bentch and her daughter, who is diagnosed with mesial temporal sclerosis. (Lolly Bentch)

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Parents and patients celebrated in Harrisburg on Wednesday as a bill to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana passed in the House.

After intense debate and consideration of some 200 amendments, the bill was passed with broad, bipartisan support. As co-founder of the group Campaign4Compassion, Lolly Bentch, whose daughter needs the medication to control seizures, described the passage of Senate Bill 3 as "pure joy."

"We were all in the gallery to watch it," she said. "We were completely overcome with emotion. I don't know if there was a dry eye in the house, you know - it was just absolutely indescribable joy."

The bill now goes to the Senate, which has passed similar legislation twice before. Gov. Tom Wolf, a strong supporter of the measure, said he will sign it when it reaches his desk.

The bill allows doctors to certify patients to use medical cannabis in pill or liquid form to treat a variety of conditions including seizures, cancer, HIV, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. Bentch said it also will give some legal protection to patients and their parents during the implementation process.

"A lot of people have been forced to do things that they never thought that they would do," she said, "to risk losing their child, having somebody take them away from you, just because you wanted them to be well."

It will take time to establish the systems necessary to produce and distribute medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Based on experiences in other states, Bentch said, she believes full implementation could take two or three years.

"It'd be great to see it done in about two years, but the sooner that two-year process can start, the better, of course," she said. "So, we're really anxious to see the governor sign this into law."

The text of the bill is online at legis.state.pa.us.