Ads 468x60px

01 September 2010

Objections to the Media

Muslims often complain that the media is unfair to them. They say: (a) The mainstream media is biased, putting the worst possible light on things and even making up stories; (b) Not all Muslims are the same and the media creates a negative sterotype.

The Media is even one of the main causes of Islamophobia. Various books and studies push this idea.

Pointing the Finger Edited by Julian Petley and Robin Richardson. Published by Oneworld Publications 2011

Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK case studies 2010 - An introduction to a ten year Europe-wide research project. By Robert Lambert and Jonathan Githens-Mazer. Published by European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC)

Images of Islam in the UK – The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008 published by the Cardiff School of Journalism (CSJ)

The Search for Common Ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK Media. Published by the Greater London Authority when Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London.

Let us look at these objections.

(a) The mainstream media is biased, putting the worst light on things and even making up stories

Given the pressures of reporting and human nature itself, it would be a surprise if news wasn’t sometimes misreported or misconstrued, even deliberately, but the fact is the media usually gives a fair account of what happens and what is said, or makes a valid point.

Even if some is unfair, what is published by reputable or usually reputable sources is a staggering indictment of Islam. The vast majority of news concerning Islam or Muslims is truthful.

The uncomfortable fact is Islam and Muslims do and say many things which puzzle or repulse non-Muslims.

What (Muslim) journalists say

In one of its major sections the Search for Common Ground study recorded the verbatim remarks of six Muslim journalists. The aim of the study was to denigrate the Press but these remarks provide a glimmer of light as to the truth which the authors missed.

“If a story’s there and it’s the biggest story in town they have to cover it. If it’s what your readership asks for, you will respond. …. If you are a news editor getting letters saying you need to be stronger on this stuff, you will … Some of the reporting after the London bombs was very good. It was reported very well and very sensitively.” (Journalist A, p241) See here.

“I think the press has been pretty fair to Muslims. They don’t really need to stitch people up, they do a good enough job of that themselves. My view is Muslims have got to address issues themselves, things like anti-semitism and homophobia that seem to be unchangeable within Muslim communities. As far as I’m concerned newspapers just report them as they are.” (Journalist B, p242)

“I take issue with many things done by British Muslims. If the media was doing its job it would help Britain’s two million Muslims to be able to develop a kind of reasoned, questioning attitude within itself. And you are beginning to see that a bit.” (Journalist C, p243)

These Muslim journalists don’t see any great failing in the media in regard to Islam or Muslims. In the main their concerns are those of any journalist or career minded person. Perhaps because they actually work on the front line and deal with real cases and real people they also know that the occasional press stupidity is the price of a free press.

Newspapers most at “fault”!

The Search for Common Ground study also published a table which shows for each newspaper in the mainstrean British press the percent of stories about Islam and Muslims over a one week period that were negative.

It ranged from 71% to 100%. The 100% were the The Star and Daily Mirror. No surprises there. The newspaper with the least negative percent of stories was the Daily Express.

Includes the Guardian

And what about the Guardian which was also the only newspaper with journalists on the Common Ground study team and is clearly not anti-Mulslim and is even pro-Muslim? It regularly provides a platform to Muslims to explain their views.

Recent examples include: This brutality is not Islam, by Mehdi Hasan, see here. Islam's role in an ethical society, by Tariq Ramadan, see here. Watch out: democratic Muslims about, by Inayat Bunglawala, see here.

Well, the Guardian managed a 84%. That’s right, over 4/5ths of the articles in the Guardian about Islam or Muslims were negative.

Missing the point

A significant proportion of the complaints about negative reporting (in the CSJ and CommonGround work) are disingenuous or open to debate. For example, CSJ complain:

“Though Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, then head of the Muslim Council of Britain, when interviewed by the Daily Telegraph never used the word Nazi, he was accused in very strong terms of comparing Britain to Nazi Germany. Headlines included “Fury as Muslim brands Britain 'Nazi”, “Comparisons to Nazi Germany inaccurately reflect Muslim status in Britain”.

What he actually said was: "Every society has to be really careful so the situation doesn't lead us to a time when people's minds can be poisoned as they were in the 1930s.”.

CSJ might have posed the question what did Dr Bari actually have in mind when referring to the 1930s? Was it high unemployment, the abdication crisis, or was it possibly the Nazi persecution of the Jews? See here.

And often, Muslims just miss the point. In another example Muslims complained about criticism of an Education Authority that gave its schools advice which included changes to the school programme so that Muslim children could observe Ramadan. It wasn’t compulsory advice they declared.

But that wasn’t the point. What was a local authority doing giving this advice in the first place! Why should any authority be making exceptions, giving privileges to a minority of the population, disrupting normal school practice possibly to the detriment of other pupils and creating extra work for staff.

(b) Not all Muslims are the same

That Muslims don’t all practice or understand their faith in the same way even those who live in the same street must be obvious to anyone who hasn’t been living on another planet. But how does this in anyway negate criticism of some Muslim beliefs and practices which non-Muslims disagree with or find objectionable? It doesn’t.

Non-Muslims say x is wrong, or we don’t like x. But not all Muslims practice x or believe x. So that’s alright then! No need to talk about x!

For x read “death for apostasy”, “easy divorce for men”, “stoning for adultery”, “segregation of the sexes”, “polygamy”, “veiling of women”, “a Muslim can marry only another Muslim”, “suppression of other religions”, “Sharia courts”, “a woman inherits half what a man inherits”, “non-stun halal slaughter”, “islam provides a complete political system” etc.

And, from Muslims who don’t go along with these things you don’t get criticism or condemnation, you all too often get dubious excuses.

An American Muslim justified death for apostasy in Pakistan because Islam is the state religion and leaving Islam is an act of treason. Treason is punishable by death in the United States. You may wonder how different this is from peacefully disagreeing with your Government about the way the country is run, or being a republican and atheist in a Christian monarchy such as the UK?

Inayat Bunglawala, a former spokesperson of the Muslim Council of Britain, personally is against stoning for adultery, that is torturing a person to death for the “crime”, but if people in other countries decide to have it, it’s OK by him. He uses the weasel words "choose their own legal system."