The UK me­dia too of­ten mis­rep­re­sents Mus­lims – with dan­ger­ous re­sults

Pakistan Today (Karachi) - - WORLD VIEW - MIQDAADVERSI

“Ter­ror in Spain: Gun­man scream­ing ‘Al­lahu Ak­bar’ opens fire in su­per­mar­ket” screamed a Daily Ex­press news story re­cently. This head­line is the lat­est in a long list of false and in­ac­cu­rate sto­ries I have iden­ti­fied as part of my work chal­leng­ing the mis­re­port­ing of Is­lam and Mus­lims in the me­dia.

This story in the Ex­press, also cov­ered in the Sun (now cor­rected) and Mail On­line, was com­ple­mented by a sub­se­quent claim that the in­for­ma­tion came from the po­lice – de­spite the po­lice mak­ing it clear that the in­di­vid­ual had spo­ken Basque and that it was not a ter­ror at­tack.

Such bla­tant mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the facts has real con­se­quences that are the mo­ti­va­tion for my ef­forts. On one hand, it tars the bril­liant and care­ful work by many jour­nal­ists across the coun­try. Yet trust in jour­nal­ism lags near the bot­tom of Ip­sos Mori’s Ve­rac­ity Index – a se­ri­ous con­cern given the im­por­tance of the me­dia in chal­leng­ing author­ity in our democ­racy.

On the other hand, it leads to in­creas­ing hos­til­ity against Mus­lims, as shown by aca­demics from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge and the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion against Racism and In­tol­er­ance even called for the UK me­dia to “avoid per­pet­u­at­ing prej­u­dice”, and that “fu­elling prej­u­dice against Mus­lims” was “reck­less” given the dan­ger­ous con­se­quences, in line with the United Na­tions hu­man rights chief Zei­dRa’ad Al Hus­sein, who urged the UK to “tackle tabloid hate speech”.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, and in a sim­i­lar way to many of the other sto­ries I have iden­ti­fied, this false ter­ror story has been shared thou­sands of times, in­clud­ing by far-right groups and ex­trem­ists. Ini­tially, my work to cor­rect in­ac­cu­ra­cies was spo­radic at best. But as my fears have wors­ened, I have adopted a more sys­tem­atic, fo­cused and an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proach where I eval­u­ate ar­ti­cles on Is­lam and Mus­lims that go against the ed­i­tors’ code of prac­tice that the pa­pers have them­selves cho­sen to abide by.

To Fleet Street’s dis­credit, rarely does a week pass where an ar­ti­cle has not been cor­rected: there have been a stag­ger­ing 13 cor­rec­tions fol­low­ing my com­plaints in the past seven weeks. Let’s not for­get this ex­cludes dis­crim­i­na­tory pieces and hate speech against Mus­lims in opin­ion pages of news­pa­pers, which are not cov­ered by the cur­rent reg­u­la­tor (in spite of Lord Leve­son’s rec­om­men­da­tions).

Given that I can­not at­tribute mo­tive with­out ev­i­dence, I am care­ful not to do so. But given their pro­fes­sional duty and un­der­tak­ing to the press reg­u­la­tor as well as to so­ci­ety at large, news­pa­per ed­i­tors need to se­ri­ously con­sider what are the driv­ers for this mis­re­port­ing.

I sup­pose this may be re­flec­tive of our cur­rent age, where click-bait­ing or web traf­fic are more val­ued in some news­rooms than the graft of old-fash­ioned jour­nal­ism. While for some mis­re­port­ing might be re­flec­tive of a lack of re­li­gious lit­er­acy, I do worry that in cer­tain cases it may be due to anti-Mus­lim prej­u­dice.

We des­per­ately re­quire greater care in the re­port­ing of break­ing news sto­ries, bet­ter train­ing, greater di­ver­sity in news­rooms, and a re­li­gious lit­er­acy clearly lack­ing at present, along with a con­sis­tent use of ter­mi­nol­ogy that takes into ac­count its con­se­quences for our so­ci­ety. Th­ese are some of the is­sues that I have raised with na­tional me­dia out­lets’ man­ag­ing ed­i­tors, om­buds­men and le­gal teams who have en­gaged with me fol­low­ing com­plaints.

For what it’s worth, while some of the “en­gage­ment” seems to be grudg­ing and more aimed at at­tempt­ing to pla­cate me, oth­ers have been very re­cep­tive to ideas, with con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions as to how to move for­ward. Most re­cently, for ex­am­ple, a man­ag­ing ed­i­tor shared a cor­rec­tion with the whole of the on­line team as an ex­am­ple of what needs to change.

Con­spir­acy the­o­rists have bizarrely sug­gested that my mo­tives are to con­trol the me­dia, with the aim of si­lenc­ing crit­i­cism of Is­lam or even in­tro­duc­ing a blas­phemy law through the back door. Such in­di­vid­u­als or groups fail to pro­vide a shred of ev­i­dence, and have even re­sorted to bla­tant lies to back up their as­ser­tions. One ex­am­ple is the claim that the press reg­u­la­tor forced Mail On­line to state Is­lam does not sup­port hon­our killings, when it did no such thing and only re­quired ac­cu­racy and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Is­lam as a driver.

I am an ad­vo­cate for free speech as well as frank and hon­est dis­cus­sions on chal­leng­ing is­sues. Yet I am also wary of those who mas­quer­ade be­hind this im­por­tant prin­ci­ple in or­der to seek a priv­i­leged po­si­tion to at­tack mi­nori­ties. None of us want to live in a world where our chil­dren feel the me­dia is out to get them. All I’m look­ing for is re­spon­si­ble re­port­ing. Is that too much to ask?

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