Critical Commentary: Becca Woodstra

Posted on April 12, 2013 by


          “Buddhist-Muslim Tensions Spread as 8 Detainees Die in Indonesia,” an article title caught my eye as I surfed the web for a current issue to write my essay on.  The words death, die, murder, kill are continuously shown and saturate our newspapers, internet databases, televisions and radios.  Always a shock that produces a fleeting moment of sadness, the news is then quickly forgotten and we go about our day as if nothing has happened.  However, somewhere in the world someone has disappeared. Someone’s family member, friend, coworker, acquaintance has passed away and is forever gone, removed from the earth. This is what crossed my mind as I read the article title, and what got me interested in critically examining the article and the way it was portrayed.   Titles are a vital component in an article and either draw a person in or out.

            On Friday, April 5th, a dangerous brawl broke out at an immigration detention center in Jakarta, Indonesia between Muslim and Buddhist detainees.  Eight people were pronounced dead and fifteen wounded with severe injuries.  Held together for illegal fishing in the same area of a government detention center, this group of 117 Muslim Rohingya and 11 Buddhists broke out into a fight shortly after midnight.  The detainees used metal and wood from broken chairs to attack one another.  The police subdued it by midmorning, hours after the initial hit was given.  The article then further goes on explaining the growing tensions between Muslims and Buddhists in Indonesia.

            Joe Cochrane and Thomas Fuller, two American journalists from the New York Times, reported on the event and at first seemingly had a non-biased approach, The New York Times, generally seen as a Liberal newspaper, writes on a wide variety of topics. The religions the article covered were Buddhism and Islam, being that Muslims practice Islam.  Since the article only said eight fisherman died, the reader is unaware of which religion each late man had associated with.  Using a relatively formative tone, the authors generally maintain a non-biased approach to the issue. The picture accompanying the article was of police officers standing behind a caution tapeline, roping off the area of the murders.  However, reading mor carefully there are parts in the article that portray each religion in a more negative light. 

            “There were eight fishermen killed,” said Mr. Herianto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “The injured detainees were Rohingya.” The reporter decides to emphasize those injured as Muslim, and then never declares what religion the eight fishermen who have died affiliate with.  The clash also “began when a Muslim Rohingya confronted a Buddhist fisherman about sectarian violence in Myanmar.”  Since no one had been involved, other than the people involved in the fight, people should not make assumptions as to who was the instigator.  However, these two examples contradict each other and confuse the reader as to who the reporter is in more favor of.  It is also funny how the article never investigates the consequences of the fight or any follow up actions decided by authorities. Muslims also seem to be favored more because they are “on alert for attacks after recent rioting in the central city of Meiktila,” which “killed more than 40 people, most of them Muslims.” This piece of information makes us sympathetic toward the Muslims. Rather than explaining how the Buddhists feel, their feelings are just omitted.  We are also told that the attacks are in “some cases led by Buddhist Monks….leaving mosques and hundreds of Muslim’s homes destroyed.” This portrays the Buddhists in a negative light. All the way to the end of the article, the Buddhists are further portrayed in a negative way, describing actions of arson and killing. The article ends with the issue of Rohingya Muslims worried about their living situations and where they can find and maintain safety…leaving us even further sympathetic for their people and those affiliated with Islam. Therefore the “bad guys” are the Buddhists, instigating fighting, killing, and terror, while the “good guys” are the Muslims who are portrayed as fearful, weak, and nicer.

            When examining an article, the matter of media “bias” should not always be about balance within a story or how any particular story is executed. Bias stems from what’s covered and what’s not, what is emphasized and what isn’t, what is investigated and made an important agenda item, and what isn’t.  Facts and opinions seem a bit muddled, and assumptions seem to be a large part of this article. As far as the coverage goes, it amazes me how our media casts aside so many fatalities, and our world goes on without any major consequence.  While the NY Times seems to be a very credible source, they are guilty of major bias, and therefore should always be read with a grain of salt.  This goes for all other news outlets.



Fuller, Thomas, and Joe Cochrane. “Buddhist-Muslim Tensions Rise as 8 Detainees Die in Indonesia.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 5 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

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