High journalistic standards are crucial for free media, one that treats Muslims fairly and does not seek to wilfully misrepresent Muslim communities, says a report by Muslim Council of Britain’s Center for Media Monitoring on ‘British Media’s Coverage of Muslims and Islam (2018-2020).
The 162-page report covers 48,000 online articles and 5,500 broadcast clips to analyze the negative and misleading coverage of Muslims and Islam in Britain. The authors of the report monitored 34 media outlets via their online websites and 38 television channels (including all regional channels) between October 2018 to September 2019.
The popular and common image of Muslims and Islam all around the world is synonymous to extremism. The report not only provides a conceptual and analytical understanding of this phenomenon but also undertakes a rigorous quantitative study.
The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and professional networks.
The author of the report Faisal Hanif stressed that neither Muslims nor Islam should be immune to criticism or inquiry, but “we do expect this to be done fairly and with due care, without resorting to well-worn tropes and generalizations.”
“This study is valuable to both the academic community, and more so to newsrooms and journalists, and will in some way go towards improving reporting and coverage of Muslims and their beliefs in the coming years,” he said.
The report is divided into two sections – online and broadcast. The subsections include areas of analyses such as – misrepresentation, bias, negative aspects and behavior, due prominence, etc. Each subsection is also followed by recommendations that can help avoid the misreporting about Muslims and Islam.
The subsection titled “Bias” talks about the biasness that exists while reporting about Muslims and Islam. It concludes that around of all the articles assessed, 14% were “biased” or “very biased” and the top 16 publishers of articles under “biased” or “very biased” all belonged to right-wing publications.
The report further notes that even when less than 15% were “biased” or “very biased” of all the articles assessed, the “antagonistic bias” was over 20%, seven times higher than the “supportive bias.”
The case study included in this subsection titled “Critical discourse analyses” by Khadijah Hasan which probes the headline of a report published by Daily Mail – ‘EXCLUSIVE: Harrowing video shows ‘abducted’ British teenager being bundled into a car in Libya as her mother screams for help – and the UK police will not investigate.’ Khadijah Hasan points out the discriminatory and provocative vocabulary of the headline.
She notes: “The association of the abduction with the perpetrator’s religious identity is highlighted immediately after the headline. Understandably, the reporting of this event is emotive due to the disturbing nature of the situation. Using the phrase ‘conservative Islamic family’ afterwords and phrases such as ‘harrowing’ and ‘screams for help’ in the headline creates associations in the reader’s mind between these horrific actions and the religious identity of the perpetrator and his family. We have to question why religious identity is brought up in this manner and context: there is an obvious implication that their ‘Islamic’ identity is linked to these actions.”
Under the subsection “Misrepresentation” the article undertakes a case study titled – Libel of Muslim Figures and Organizations. The case study shows how British Media houses including The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, and many others often engage in falsely accusing Muslims – both individuals and organizations. This case study discusses ten cases in which Muslims were fabricated as perpetrators by leading newspapers. The case of Waj Iqbal and The Mail on Sunday is also included.
In his testimony to Muslim Council of Britain’s Center for Media Monitoring, Waj Iqbal talks about the deep impact these inaccurate and false allegations have on Muslims in their daily lives. He shared in his testimony: “As this report from CfMM shows, linking Muslims to any negative aspect or behavior is a raison d’etre of certain newspapers. This is what The Mail on Sunday did when suggesting that I, Wajed Iqbal, a junior taxi-licensing officer at South Ribble borough in Lancashire, gave badges and licenses to known criminals and predators in my previous job.”
A detailed discussion on misleading headlines in cases involving Muslims and Islam is comprehensively covered in the subsection titled “Headlines”.
The Report notes that “just over 2% of headlines are misleading or irrelevant.” The report also analyses a case-by-case study of various instances of misleading headlines that are prevalent, including the one reported by The Daily Mail Australia, which turned Muslim victims into perpetrators. The headline in question goes like: “Muslim worshippers attack golf club-wielding man who stormed their mosque and started hurling insults and threats at them.”
The section titled “Broadcasts” includes analyses of various clips that propagated fabricated images of Muslims and Islam. The subsection “Bias” mentions how fictional works often portray Muslims and Islam as inferior to liberal values. The key findings of this section included that over 11% of all assessed broadcast pieces omitted due prominence to Muslim voices and perspectives. Further proving the fact that Muslims, when represented, must mostly resemble the already established “extremist” imagery.
The subsection titled “Negative Aspects and Behaviour” further proves this point, as around 47% of clips assessed showed Muslims and Islam in a negative light. The report further analyzed the case of protests by Muslim parents in 2019 outside two primary schools in Birmingham over what they perceived as the LGBT indoctrination of their children. The analyzed reporting of the incident by various media houses.
It notes: “One particular example of this is the choice of the BBC to question and feature the Commissioner for countering Extremism, Sara Khan- a controversial figure among many British Muslims. The choice of featuring a Counter Extremism Tsar for a matter related to education effectively couches the Muslim actors in this story as a security threat, ‘a mob’ in the words of Ms Khan.”
While talking about “Generalisations,” it was found that 9% of broadcast clips analysed made generalisations about Muslims and Islam. The subsection incorporates a comprehensive case study of popular broadcast clips, including popular and long-running daily soaps like Hollyoaks, Ackley Bridge, Coronation Street, and MotherFatherSon, and the tropes they use which are often used to malign the image of Muslims and Islam.
In the case of Ackley Bridge, the report analyses the homosexuality trope that is often used to portray Islam and Muslims as regressive. “The homosexual Muslim character is the archetype of this battle between supposed oppressive family and traditions versus the freedom to do as one pleases.” The case study is concluded by pointing out the impact such portrayal and representations can have on audiences.
“Whilst intending to be idiosyncratic and specific to this case, many audience members may assume such generalistions are the norm. Having to think about this actively becomes less important once Muslims are normalised in society, but in the absence of this, and in the context of negative attitudes towards Muslims across a wide cross-section of society, extra care is required,” read the report.
The report concludes by establishing the importance of analyses of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam and how this can be used to create awareness against Islamophobia.
As a matter of fact, the CfMM report was able to create awareness and invited constructive engagement and reactions from certain media houses that it took under its radar for biased and misleading reporting including Alison Philips, the Editor-in-chief of The Mirror, who mentions in the foreword to the CfMM report:
“This report by the Centre for Media Monitoring shows how much we as journalists must question ourselves and the work we are producing in relation to reporting of Muslims and Islam,” read the foreword.
On a similar note, Emma Tucker, Editor of Sunday times in her foreword mentioned: “That’s why I welcome this report – in the full knowledge that it contains criticisms of the press, my own paper included. Some of those criticisms are valid. Some I would respectfully disagree with. All, though, are useful. To move forward in serving that broad readership we want to hear views from every part of it.”