Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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8.4.2 Young people’s media use (ii)

Ammar al-Ghabban is a secondary school teacher with more than a decade's experience working in Tower Hamlets, East London, an area with a large Bengali Muslim population. From 2004–5 he took part in a national study as a researcher, interviewing his students about how post-9/11 media coverage was influencing their perceptions of security. In 2008 Ammar was interviewed about his reflections on that research; the result is the following audio.

Activity 38 Interview with Ammar al-Ghabban

Please read the transcript of an interview with al-Ghabban and note your answers to the questions below. When you have finished, reveal the discussion and check your answers against those provided.

Please click ‘Reveal comment’ to read the interview.


David Herbert
Our final interviewee is Ammar al-Ghabban, a teacher of media studies in a Bangladeshi majority comprehensive school in Tower Hamlets, East London. In 2004-5 Ammar took part as a researcher in a study called Shifting Securities, led by Professor Marie Gillespie at the Open University. This compared the experiences of groups from different cultural and religious backgrounds across the UK, of watching and reading the news in the aftermath of 9/11. Ammar’s article based on this study appeared in the European Journal of Cultural Studies in 2007, and is the fourth reading for Study Week 9. Ammar was at pains to stress that his young people aren’t typical or representative of British Muslims or indeed the general population; but nonetheless his study provides some insights into how young people, and especially those with access to multiple channels and languages, watch and use media news sources.
I began by asking Ammar which media sources his interviewees found most reliable:
Ammar al-Ghabban
Right. Well that would vary of course. I mean, actually, it's not sort of really obvious. I mean I think there was a feeling that I think British sources were viewed as being more reliable than American sources. That’s one thing that came across. There wasn't however a sense that there was this one source that was viewed as the most reliable, that was head and shoulders above – that just didn’t seem to be how people did news. They just didn’t seem to do it like that. There was no particular source that they held up above the others. There didn’t even seem to be a desire to have a source like that. There was no desire to find this wonderful source of neutral, unbiased information. That didn’t seem to be how people consumed news. The range of sources was pretty broad depending on different people in the sample of course. Generally I would say, as a generalisation, the Bengali kids I would have thought had broader news sources than the other people in the sample. Partly for language reasons and access to news in different - from different countries and different languages. And also perhaps, partly out of a desire to want to establish the facts of a situation and therefore more of a desire to consume a wider range of news in order to facilitate that. But yeah, I couldn’t give a really straightforward answer on what they found most reliable. There was general scepticism about western news sources amongst a lot of the Bengali people I worked with. But within that they would make distinctions between some news channels in Britain and America
I then asked Ammar if his students thought that some news channels could be trusted more than others. His answer sheds some light on why people watch news – not just for accuracy of information but also for entertainment:
It's interesting because I’m instinctively sort of thinking that perhaps a few of the kids thought the BBC was more reliable than some other news channels. But in terms of the way they felt about things in terms of how positive they felt about different news organisations that wouldn’t always come across in terms of which was the most neutral or reliable because I think the whole issue of enjoyment comes into it as well. There were clearly cases of people who enjoyed watching certain news programmes but that didn’t necessarily make them view them as being the most reliable. There was something about the sort of pleasure of viewing that perhaps in some ways might override reliability at times. It could be about the format and style of a particular programme. So for example I might have a person who is quite critical of the British media and this and that and will make a series of points but then they will actually say they actually like a particular programme. And I’d be thinking, well you know that I’d be asking well wouldn’t that programme be putting out those very views that you don’t agree with or find hard to swallow and so that kind of mixed thing went on. My experience was, is that a lot of people’s feelings about programmes and channels was quite generalised and the ability for them to identify and to speak about different channels and be quite clear about the differences I think that ability to do that was quite limited.
What impact did having access to different languages and channels have on Bangladeshi viewers?
Having access to Al Jazeera and I don’t think any of the people I interviewed really spoke any or much Arabic but it was purely perhaps the selection of images, the types of images that they saw were perhaps different to the images they would have seen in say the British media, on the British news channels. And seeing those images I think it meant something to them. It gave them a sense of an alternative way of viewing events. And I suppose although they couldn’t understand what was being spoken they had some understanding of the images that they watched – so there was that. There was also obviously – being sort of – they’re Sylheti speakers but they would have had access to Bangla TV and to some other Bengali channels which they perhaps tend to watch with their parents and I think that also gave them a different perspective to what they would have consumed on terrestrial TV here. And in terms of what that actually meant for them, I got an impression of a kind of satisfaction that they could see that things were being represented differently. And that was their instinct I felt that some of the things that were being said in the British media were perhaps not what they felt was the actual case like perhaps the misrepresentation of Muslims as a group of people. And I think seeing alternative images and alternative ways of dealing with the same subjects, I think was satisfying for them, and perhaps in some ways confirmed things that the may have felt. And I think they appreciated that as they would have done as well with using the Internet which came up quite a bit as well in terms of experiencing things on the Internet that they would not have been able to experience on television news channels. I think there’s the whole, one can't underestimate the whole sort of appeal of the discovery of finding things, finding things perhaps which other people haven't got and experiencing them. I think there’s a certain amount of enjoyment that goes along with that.
Ammar then explained how his Bangladeshi interviewees felt about how Muslims were being represented in the media, and how this related to their daily lives:
I think there’s the general feeling that they had was that Muslims as a group of people were being badly, badly misrepresented. That was something they were very uncomfortable with. And I think there was an awareness of some kind of link between the two the way they were being portrayed as a group in the media and the way people were then treating them in situations on buses and trains and walking down the streets. So I think there was an awareness of the link between those two things.
In his article, Ammar talks about some of his interviewees expressing what he calls an apocalyptic vision of the world, so I asked him to explain more:
It was only when I was actually reflecting on the interviews and reflecting on the data, that I kind of noticed certain patterns emerging and once again these are not representative of the community or of the group but just of the kids I was working with. And it was a sense of - a sense of a combination, a sense of powerlessness and of fate and that things, events, were out of their control. Their lives were out of their control. For example there was the sense that there could be a terrorist bombing at any time. There was the sense that crime was taking over. You know in lots of respects in the community be it gang violence, be it violence in general, all kinds of things. And then of course they also talked a lot about images of death and destruction that they’d seen in the media, the tsunami for example being one. And there was this sort of general picture that some painted of you know this kind of well very much a kind of apocalyptic vision. And it was something that two girls in particular touched on in a conversation that they were having. And it was something that there seemed to be some sort of similar themes in some of the other discussions as well and I think about a preparedness to die and we have to accept fate and we have to accept death and we have to accept these things. And that was something that I did see. There were other people I interviewed who did not say these things and did not, who did not articulate things in this way. But nonetheless there was this very clear pattern emerging. And, I found it interesting and I felt also that, that in some way actually articulating these fears and by describing this kind of this vision of the world and to some extent of their lives, I got almost a sense that they got some kind of pleasure from doing that as well. So it wasn't something that they were necessarily you know it was something that seeing them articulate it in those kind of group contexts it was a kind of understanding of the world. And articulating that understanding seemed to give them some kind of, ‘pleasure’ is maybe the wrong word - but some kind of satisfaction.
Finally, I asked Ammar to explain how his interviewees spoke about watching violent material, such as images of hostage executions downloaded from the internet onto mobile phones. His answer gives more insight into how and why we engage with the media – not just for information or entertainment, but also out of curiosity and even sometimes a kind of morbid pleasure:
There was a sense on their part of wanting to see, wanting to know, wanting to experience some of those images feeling like they, you have to - you just have to see it. And I would ask them why? You know, in terms of what they said, in terms of the reasons why, what motivated them. They weren’t particularly clear about that. But I just got a general sense of it being part of, almost part of their education you know sort of life education, seeing something as appalling and as graphic as that. It was something that they just felt well it was there and that they had to see it. I got the sense that they felt that it was just important for them to see. And of course they were horrified by it and disgusted by it. And some of them - I didn’t include this in the article - described things to me and told me not to see it you know and said I don’t think you should see this. This will upset you, you know. So that whole thing went on. As I say, what motivated some of them I think many of them the kind of curiosity perhaps kind of morbid curiosity but also a kind of you know as a sort of life event and sort of as part of ones - just I don’t know understanding of life and the world and things. You have something, which is on offer and which you can have it in five seconds if you want it, and it's - it's really tempting. I mean not as part of this research but as a teacher I was aware of the way these images were being passed around the school and I think kids had them on their mobile phones because you can do that apparently. And you know there was an element of, I think for a few kids probably a kind of coolness: ‘I've got this image on my phone here and it's really shocking. Do you want to see it?’ So that I think that was perhaps some of the younger kids were maybe a bit like that. But when I sort of sat down and actually discussed this sort of subject with kids thoughtfully, they were saying they’d be just horrified by it but they felt they had to see it. And I think maybe, young people are more prepared to admit the sorts of things that they’re interested in with respect to this than perhaps adults who feel like they shouldn’t say that sort of thing that they wanted to watch such terrible scenes.

Activity 39 Questions related to the interview

  1. How does al-Ghabban explain his interviewees choices of news source?
  2. What was the impact of bi- or multi-lingual access?
  3. Why did his interviewees watch images of violence?


  1. Al-Ghabban says that interviewees didn't choose news sources solely on the basis of reliability or trustworthiness, but also for entertainment. They were generally sceptical of Western news sources – more so of US than British – but this didn't prevent them from watching them. They tended to look at a range of sources and compare them to try to get as close to the truth as possible. They expected all sources to have some bias and not to present the full picture.
  2. The interviewees did not speak much Arabic, but got a sense of a different perspective from the images they saw on al-Jazeera. Some watched Bangla TV with their parents, and could understand some of the language there. Al-Ghabban states that they got a 'kind of satisfaction' from seeing things represented differently, and it my have confirmed their sense that the British media was not representing everything fully and fairly.
  3. Al-Ghabban attributes the young people's watching of violent images to morbid curiosity, which they were willing to be open about. He implies this curiosity is actually widely shared. The young people certainly used a moral frame themselves to describe the violence, expressing horror and disgust at the images. They also may have interpreted these events within the 'apoocalyptic vision' that al-Ghabban describes: a sense that things are out of control, shown both in terrorism and natural disasters. This may be a way of dealing with a sense of having limited control over their lives.

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