RELIGION COVERAGE AS A CONDUIT FOR DISINFORMATION AND EXCLUSION IN LATIN AMERICA
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Past literature on religion and news media focused on whether secular news coverage is disadvantageous to religion but this dissertation explored the opposite approach: whether secular coverage of religion can favor religion (compared to coverage of the marginalized groups whose rights are often under attack by religious institutions) and amplify religious disinformation. This analysis also sought to determine how religious disinformation may spread through fact-based media and whether any differences surface between legacy and emerging outlets reporting. Coverage of a specific political process (issuance of a technical norm to guide the conditions under which abortion to save a patient’s life or health can be conducted) involving religious groups and a marginalized group (women) was chosen for analysis in a Latin American country (Costa Rica) known for a free press and stable democratic rule, but also a majority Christian population. A mixed-methods content analysis of the coverage was conducted based on newer approaches to media pluralism theory, which has been often invoked in the region to discuss unequal media access and its implications on the balance of power relations in a democratic arena. Results suggest religion coverage was a conduit for the spread of disinformation through fact-based news outlets and the spread of marginalizing narratives about women's rights. While not all disinformation came from religious sources, the majority did and the press repeated religious disinformation twice as often as non-religious disinformation. The majority of all the disinformation included in the news stories was not identified as such. In most cases, it was religious disinformation that many reporters failed to fact-check. Furthermore, they gave religious sources and their messages prominent positions in the articles, even when it included disinformation. Religious sources in the sample benefitted from a permissive coverage marked by a "silk glove" treatment by several news outlets, which enabled them to prominently spread disinformation and reaffirm exclusionary narratives. No relevant differences emerged in coverage by legacy and emerging news outlets in this regard. This dissertation contributes a case-based definition of religious disinformation and a new coding scheme that can be used to analyze media pluralism under newer theoretical conceptualizations that focus on the interaction of journalism with power asymmetries rather than measures of diversity.