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Media, faith and security

Protecting Freedom of Expression in Religious Context

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UK: Poor reporting, media illiteracy fuel Islamophobia

Imbalanced reporting on Muslims and British Islamic community's media illiteracy contribute to "hostility", study says.

Anealla Safdar | 29 Mar 2016 18:31 GMT | 


AJ Article

Britain's press regulator censured The Sun for a 'significantly misleading' story about Muslims after the Paris attacks [Reuters]


The way the UK's mainstream media covers certain issues relating to Muslims and the British Islamic community's inability to represent itself are contributing to rising Islamophobia, recent research suggests.

Developed across the University of Cambridge, research conducted over 2015 led to a roundtable at the House of Lords in January that discovered an "atmosphere of rising hostility" towards the country's 2.7 million Muslims, who comprise less than 5 percent of the 64 million-strong population.

Meanwhile, the two factors meant more Muslims were seeking news from other sources such as television or radio stations from their countries of origin.

"British minority group disaffection with local media is encouraging their members to turn to media from their regions of origin, which may be concerning for government," said Roxane Farmanfarmaian, principal at the university's Centre of the International Studies of the Middle East and North Africa.

Farmanfarmaian also heads the University of Cambridge-Al Jazeera Media Project, an initative independent of Al Jazeera Media Network.

"Many Muslim communities don't have media literacy," Farmanfarmaian told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. 

The report - titled Media, Faith and Security: Protecting freedom of expression in religious context - found "the Muslim community's fragmentation and lack of professional training in working with the media means it is ill-equipped to counter negative narratives by promoting more balanced reporting.

"The outcome is a serious breakdown in the multicultural agenda."

'Atmosphere of hostility'

Following recent attacks across Europe and the Middle East - including the shootings in January 2015 at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, deadly violence across the French capital in November 2015, and the twin attacks in Brussels earlier this month - Muslims tend to feel judged by the media, Farmanfarmaian added, as many equate the Islamic faith with "terrorism".

"What they expressed was that they felt they were being judged, they were in the headlines, the atmosphere of hostility was very stark," she said. "That rises at times of crises, then it will drop... [Muslims] were not understood; the nuances were not clear. They felt they were targeted and blamed."

For example, in November following the Paris attacks, a mass-selling British tabloid claimed in an exclusive poll that one in five British Muslims sympathised with "jihadis".

The Sun published a picture of Mohammed Emwazi, the British executioner with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) known as Jihadi John, alongside the shock headline.  

Britain's press regulator censured The Sun earlier in March for the "significantly misleading" story.

To combat the negative impact the media could have on Muslims and to "stem the slide towards an increasingly divided society", the roundtable discussion made 10 recommendations.

The advice includes appointing a well-recognised Muslim role model as a media relations officer at the consultative level; supporting media outlets to employ community relations reporters; and getting clear definitions of "radicalisation" circulated across law and enforcement agencies while setting guidelines to protect individuals from "agency profiling".

The Right Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Home Office Minister on the Counter-Extremism Strategy, has said he would share the findings with ministers of immigration, culture, media and sport.

Lack of inclusion

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, one of the UK's largest Muslim umbrella organisations, said the media and broader society needs to do more to counter "bigotry".

"We need to work together so that bigotry is slowed down, and we need to work together to challenge bigotry wherever we find it. If we don't ... we will all be worse off," he told Al Jazeera.

He added that Britain's media lacks inclusion, explaining that diversity in newsrooms "will always improve coverage".

A recent survey conducted in December 2015 by City University, London, found that 0.4 percent of British journalists identified as Muslim or Hindu, 31.6 percent were Christian, and 61.1 percent had "no religion". Meanwhile, 0.2 percent were Black, 2.5 percent Asian, and 94 percent Caucasian. 

"There is an underrepresentation of Muslims working in the media," said Versi.

He added that religious illiteracy was "rife" within parts of Britain's media, which exacerbated the trend of Islamophobia.

"Those who write don't necessarily understand the concepts being discussed," he said. "We need to build awareness and improve on literacy."

He also recommended that strong regulation of the press was needed to protect communities, while citing The Sun's headline as an example of how a story can "shape the news for days".

Follow Anealla Safdar on Twitter: @anealla


Source: Al Jazeera

You can read the article on the Al Jazeera site here 



Read also the Independent article:

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Why the British media is responsible for the rise in Islamophobia in Britain

Less than 0.5 per cent of journalists in the UK are Muslim. No wonders so many misleading stories make the cut

 Miqdaad Versi                                                             Monday 4 April 2016 

 The Independent Article Pic

IPSO has upheld another complaint against a British publication for inaccurate comments regarding Muslims. Getty Images
Once again, a newspaper’s integrity has been found wanting as the press regulator, IPSO, judged the Daily Star Sunday’s headline, “UK mosques fundraising for terror”, to be “significantly misleading” following a complaint lodged by myself. The paper clarified its error on page 2, noting that UK mosques were actually “not involved in any way”. This came just a week after The Sun was forced to acknowledge that its headline “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” was similarly misleading.

Such inaccuracies are not restricted to the tabloid press. The Times, for example, claimed Muslims were “silent on terror”. This allegation has since been unequivocally rebuffed not only by Home Secretary Theresa May but also by senior counter-terror officers such as Neil Basu and Scotland Yard’s former anti-terror chief Richard Walton.

It’s not just misleading stories which are the problem - we also consistently see articles conflating the faith of Islam with criminality, such as the headlines “Muslim sex grooming” or “Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town” - the latter of which resulted in the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police being “appalled” and writing an open letter criticising the paper.

Sensationalism and scaremongering about the apparent threat posed by Muslims is also widespread. Just look at headlines such as: “BBC puts Muslims before you” (Daily Star); “Halal secret of Pizza Express” (The Sun); “Muslim vote could decide 25 per cent of seats” (Daily Mail).


Recent research by the University of Cambridge has shown that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility toward Muslims in Britain, corroborating the findings of an Islamophobia Roundtable in Stockholm two years ago. Claiming that the media has played no role in the growth in Islamophobia is no longer a tenable position.

More than half of Britons see Islam (the mainstream religion, not Islamist fundamentalist groups) as a threat to Western liberal democracy. Over 30 per cent of young children believe Muslims are ‘taking over England’ and hate crime against Muslims continues to rise, up by 70 per cent in the last year, according to the Metropolitan police.

Of course, the government needs to take the problem of Islamophobia seriously and we all need to hold the media to account better, reporting mistakes and inaccuracies. However, editors of newspapers also need to own up to this problem within the media and take meaningful steps to resolve it.


Research from City University in London shows a huge under-representation of Muslims in the media: less than 0.5 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, compared to almost 5 per cent of the national population. This lack of diversity is likely to be further magnified at more senior positions. A more diverse workforce, however, is likely to improve coverage and reduce the likelihood of misreporting. I am aware of specific instances where the mere presence of Muslim journalists in editorial meetings made a real difference in ensuring more balanced reporting.

To improve diversity, there needs to be greater outreach on the part of media organisations to bring in talent from all backgrounds, through diversity programmes, paid internships and fast-track schemes to proactively close this gap.


Finally, given the apparent inability of the press to self-regulate, there needs to be more effective regulation. Stronger deterrents would prevent stories that are just plain wrong from making into print or online. Papers should not be able to get away with “clarifications” that do not admit wrongdoing without “due prominence”. A significantly misleading front page headline needs to be corrected by an equally sized front page apology as well as a financial penalty.

I expect that the independent review of IPSO currently underway would cover these ideas and hope that all those interested, feed into that review. And, among many potential improvements to the Editor’s Code of Practice, incorporating Recommendation 38 from Lord Leveson’s report is a key way to help tackle the abuse of minority groups by some sections of the media: “The power to intervene in cases of allegedly discriminatory reporting, and in so doing reflect the spirit of equalities legislation”.

Avoiding regular smears about Islam or Muslims and the conflation of the faith of Islam with criminality is a simple request of fairness, not asking for favours. It is not too much to ask of the nation’s editors.

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