Washington, July 18 : Local news channels might inadvertently be promoting negative stereotypical conceptions about blacks, say researchers.
In a pair of recently published studies, communication professor Travis Dixon found that the more people watched either local or network news, the more likely they were to draw on negative stereotypes about blacks.
"We've shown that just watching the news - just news consumption alone - has an impact on one's stereotypical conceptions," he said.
Dixon said that even among those who may think of themselves as largely prejudice-free, those who watch more local or network news are prone to more often see blacks as intimidating, violent or poor.
In a study on local news, the researchers found that showing local TV news, particularly crime news, was almost always "racialized" in its portrayal of blacks and other groups.
In another study led by Dixon in Los Angeles in the mid- to late 1990s, the analysis of news content showed that blacks are over represented as perpetrators, whites are over represented as victims, and black-on-white crime is over represented relative to crime within racial groups.
The overrepresentation is relative to police department crime statistics, not population.
"All of these things are inconsistent with what's really happening out there in the quote-unquote real world," Dixon said. "Some news reporters will say they're holding up this mirror (to the real world), but it's a distorted mirror."
Dixon believes part of it may be in the way network news often "frames" an issue or topic, such as poverty or welfare, by finding individuals to focus on.
The stereotypes then come more-readily to mind, consciously or unconsciously, when seeing or interacting with a member of that group.
Through much local television news, "we keep seeing these black perpetrators all the time, so that becomes more accessible and not other conceptions," said Dixon.
Dixon collected information on a number of factors that could influence stereotypical beliefs other than news-watching - such as gender, age, race, education, political ideology, income, racism, overall television exposure, newspaper exposure, neighbourhood diversity and the community's crime rate.
"We found that more than a quarter of stereotypical beliefs can be explained just by how much news you watch," he said.
"If one assumes that respondents may suppress their honest feelings, given that the subject involves race, then the effect could be assumed to be even larger," he added.
Dixon said news viewers need to be empowered to know that media effects are real and that they need to be more conscious of the potential effects," Dixon said. "The fact is we still largely live in a segregated society, so our perceptions of other groups largely come through the media," he said.