۸ خرداد ۱۴۰۱ |۲۷ شوال ۱۴۴۳ | May 29, 2022
Islamophobia

Our analysis shows that almost two-thirds of articles paint Muslims in a negative light.

Hawzah News Agency –Miqdaad Versi, the founder of the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring, talk about this issue:

Last week, the Labor MP Naz Shah observed that “Islamophobia has now passed the ‘mainstream media test’”. The report published this week by the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring shows that she’s right.

Consider some of the most egregious cases cited in the report. There was the Times, Telegraph, MailOnline and Express libeling a Scout group leader, Ahammed Hussain, in 2019, using a laundry list of anti-Muslim tropes; these included “allegations about using the Scout group to promote extremism, segregation of children, extensive links to antisemitic groups, and inviting banned preachers to the Mosque”. Or take the Mail on Sunday, which called council worker Waj Iqbal “a fixer” for pedophile taxi drivers in Rochdale. As he put it, his whole world crumbled, he lost his job, his “marriage ended and [he] couldn’t see [his] kids”. The impact of this kind of reporting cannot be overstated. While nothing can repair the harm caused, in both cases, the publishers had to pay very substantial libel damages and print apologies.

Many other similar examples published in the report show how Muslims have been compelled to take libel action against newspapers, and have won. If one considers the hundreds of thousands of pounds paid to settle these claims, what does this tell us about the price they are willing to pay to misrepresent Muslims?

Some might say those are only the worst cases, not indicative of the media as a whole. Yet the report dispels this myth by showing how widespread the issue is, based on excruciatingly detailed analysis of more than 48,000 print articles and 5,500 TV clips that mentioned Muslims or Islam. Sixty per cent of the articles and almost half of all clips analyzed associated negative aspects and behavior with Muslims or Islam, with terrorism or extremism being the most common theme. Little wonder Islamophobia is so common in society.

When we see the scale of the problem and understand its source, silence should not be an option.

The easiest step, but one rarely taken, is the calling out of Islamophobes or those who propagate Islamophobia in the media. They are often found in the op-ed pages of rightwing newspapers and magazines, writers for whom Muslims are rarely seen as individuals but are representatives of a homogenous and sinister group. But it can also be seen in the pursuit of specious stories and narratives on the front pages of supposedly serious newspapers. Then there are publications like the Spectator, which is known to have published generous articles about far-right politicians and movements. Rather than falling over themselves to attend the publication’s fancy soirées, MPs and journalists should be holding it to account.

It is not all doom and gloom. There are areas where we see improvements. There have been fewer anti-Muslim front pages in recent years, the MCB issues a smaller number of complaints than we have historically, and there have been positive editorial choices from right-leaning news outlets. These include the Sun’s explanatory boxes to provide context for complex topics, the presence of Muslim people clapping for the NHS alongside their work colleagues on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail calling out a “far-right activist” on its front page.

But while these positives – some of which may be because media outlets know they are being monitored – are tactically valuable and extremely important, long-term change needs to be structural.

The start of this journey is acknowledging the problem from the very top. And, in a difficult landscape, it has been important to see the courage of some of Fleet Street’s editors: Gary Jones, the editor of the Express, acknowledged in 2018 his newspaper had contributed to an “Islamophobic sentiment” in the media; Emma Tucker, the editor of the Sunday Times, welcomed this week’s report “in the full knowledge that it contains criticisms of the press, my own paper included”; and Alison Phillips, the editor-in-chief of the Mirror, acknowledged at the launch of this report that things have to change, laying out a series of steps her paper is taking.

Structural change also involves newsrooms looking more like the society we live in. Research from 2016 showed that 0.4% of journalists are Muslim (a tenth of what it should be proportionately) – and diversity schemes, such as the Aziz Foundation’s apprenticeship program, have their part to play.

However, ultimately, our hope is for adherence to basic principles of journalism and responsible reporting: the need to be skeptical, with an ear for when stories “just sound wrong” and warrant further checking; the desire to consider the real-world, social ramifications of using certain images or giving certain words prominence in headlines; and the importance of editors taking a holistic view of their coverage to reflect on whether they truly reflect their outlet’s objectives.

Editorial will, training, checks and balances, and appropriate policies and style guides can make this happen. We’re asking for fairness, not favors. It’s not too much to ask.

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