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Roots of Terrorism
teachers guide

Classroom Activities

Activity 7: Media and Perception

  • Strategies for Discussion
  • Program Descriptions
  • Credits and Acknowledgments

  • Background
  • Key Events
  • Select Individuals by Program
  • Key Organizations
  • Maps of the Region
  • Country Briefings
  • "Basic Facts About Islam"

  • Classroom Activities
  • Activity 1: Roots of Hatred
  • Activity 2: Defining Terrorism
  • Activity 3: Defining an Ally
  • Activity 4: Views of bin Laden
  • Activity 5: U.N. Simulations
  • Activity 6: Making Connections
  • Activity 7: Media and Perception
  • Activity 8: Debates, Discussion Questions, and Writing Prompts
  • Activity 9: How Are You Being Represented?

  • Resources
    Where to go on the Web for more information

    These activities can be used with any of the FRONTLINE programs on terrorism except where otherwise noted.

    These activities will provide students an opportunity to:

    • Practice media analysis skills.

    • Examine the role media plays in our understanding of global issues related to terrorism.

    • Consider the impact of media production choices, especially as they relate to interviews and editing.


    Prior to viewing the films, have students look at their textbooks for information on any of the countries listed in the background section of this guide. Compile that information (perhaps listing on an overhead projector or the board). After viewing, look at the information again. What was omitted? What was included? Was anything included in either the film or the text that seems inaccurate or distorted? Why don't U.S. textbooks contain much information on these countries?

    Then, after students view the films, prompt them with the following questions:

    • In "Saudi Time Bomb?" and "Looking For Answers": Who is Lowell Bergman, the correspondent? What do you know about him? What might you want to know about him?

    • Who is interviewed? Trace the relationship between each person interviewed and the U.S. government or the government of another country. What are they asked? Was there anything you wanted to ask them that wasn't asked? Who wasn't interviewed? How does their absence influence your opinions? After viewing the film, was there anything else you wanted to know? Why do you think the film didn't answer your question?

    • Several of the interview subjects are ambassadors. What is an ambassador's job? What would you expect them to say and not say?

    • Compare the FRONTLINE programs to other terrorism news coverage you have seen. How are the films different? How are they the same? Compile a list of the labels that network news outlets are using for their coverage (e.g., "America Strikes Back"). Imagine that those labels are film titles. What would you expect to hear and see in those films? How do the labels influence viewers' perceptions? How do the labels compare to the titles of the FRONTLINE programs?

    • In "Looking for Answers" we see footage of Egyptian Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Why is he speaking in English? In other films, where else do you see English used (e.g., signs in crowds of protesters)? What does this tell you about the intended audience for the message?

    • What is the impact of Al Jazeera, the Arab language news network based in Qatar? Do you agree or disagree with their decision to broadcast footage of people suffering in places like Egypt, Afghanistan, or Palestinian refugee camps? How do people like Osama bin Laden or the Saudi government use such footage? Would Al Jazeera have had a significant impact if they were not the only news agency covering such stories? Why haven't U.S. news agencies run the same stories or footage as Al Jazeera?

    • "Saudi Time Bomb?" mentions the content of textbooks used in Saudi madrassas. Go to the FRONTLINE website to explore that content in more detail. Compare it to your own public school and/or religious school textbooks. How are they similar? How are they different? What impact do school textbooks have on a society? What impact have your textbooks had on you?

    • Look around your community and record how many places you see the American flag displayed. How many of these places displayed the flag prior to Sept. 11? Survey community members to find out what the flag means to them. Be sure to ask a wide range of people, including young children, parents, grandparents, and peers, people of different races, ethnicities, and economic circumstances, veterans, and peace activists, etc. Does everybody share the same interpretation? If not, what accounts for the differences? Using evidence from the film(s), develop a hypothesis of what the American flag represents to a member of Al Qaeda, an unemployed engineer in Egypt, a poor Muslim in Sudan, a member of the Saudi royal family, or a member of the Taliban. How does that view differ from your view? What accounts for the difference(s)?

    Related Web Materials

    Poynter Institute
    Contains archives of the front pages of major newspapers.

    Project for Excellence in Journalism
    The website for Columbia University's and the Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism features analysis of how media has covered war.

    Center for Media Literacy
    Includes links to most major media literacy organizations. It is also a clearinghouse for media literacy materials and has compiled a list of websites related to Sept. 11.

    Related Curriculum Standards

    Language arts
    8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

    9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

    10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media

    Thinking and reasoning
    1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

    2. Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning

    3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences

    5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

    6. Applies decision-making techniques

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