Newswatch | Newswatch

You are here

Media coverage accentuates Islamophobia, say UK Muslims

Muslims in UK blame Islamophobia on the portrayal of their religion in the media, a survey has revealed. An overwhelming 92 per cent feel this is either a very significant or significant problem. A significant number of the other respondents surveyed too think it is indeed a problem, with 44 per cent UK public and 40 per cent Jews saying so.

THEIR STORY: It was striking that Muslims feel more strongly about international issues than say, their treatment by police or discrimination in UK. It appears that Islamophobia, Western foreign policy and human rights abuses of Muslims are contributing substantially to the alienation of UK Muslims. On the other hand, non-Muslims are concerned about extremism, the lack of integration, Muslims not being proud to be British and the lack of tolerance by Muslims. (British Embassy, the Hague)

A representative sample of 1,360 adult UK respondents, including 506 Muslims, were surveyed online from April 13 to May 2 this year. They were questioned on their attitudes and experience of Islamophobia; discrimination and integration; the Muslim community; relations between the West and Muslim states; and extremism and the "War on Terror". The poll was powered by Global Market Insite (GMI).

The results of the research were respectively analysed by Colin Irwin from the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, and affiliated to the Institute of Governance, Queen's University Belfast; and Shaista Gohir, director of Muslim Voice UK, an online polling organisation that aims to bring Muslim opinion in UK to the fore to foster a greater understanding of UK Muslims.

Shaista Gohir has set out a Ten-Point Action Plan based on the research. Her recommendations include: action by the Muslim community and police; breaking down barriers to integration and misunderstandings; tackling discrimination and Islamophobia; measures to deal with extremism; reviewing foreign policy; protecting human rights and more responsible reporting by the media.

Gohir said, "It was striking that Muslims feel more strongly about international issues than say, their treatment by police or discrimination in UK. It appears that Islamophobia, Western foreign policy and human rights abuses of Muslims are contributing substantially to the alienation of UK Muslims. On the other hand, non-Muslims are concerned about extremism, the lack of integration, Muslims not being proud to be British and the lack of tolerance by Muslims. However, the biggest threat to good Muslim and non-Muslim community relations is the misinformation on Islam in the media".

PAYING FOR THEIR TERRORISM: Handout of CCTV footage shows London bombing suspects at Luton train station in England in a July 7, 2005 image. Shaista Gohir writes, "People's attitudes towards Muslims have not only been influenced by the events of 9/11 and 7/7, but also as a result of the surrounding media coverage and discourse. It has become common place for Islamophobic sentiments to be expressed in mainstream media. As the media has a huge impact on people's views on Islam, it has a responsibility to present fair and accurate views." (Scotland Yard)

Research shows, the report said, that there is a negative bias towards Muslims in the media as it continues to propagate the "stereotypical" view of Islam due to a significant amount of coverage given to Muslims with extreme views. Research undertaken by Communique Partners of San Francisco had revealed that Arab Muslims are typically portrayed in a stereotypical and negative fashion by the media in Western Europe and the United States. In addition, a study on UK newspaper articles carried out by Elizabeth Poole also showed that most articles about Muslims tend to be negative.

Most worryingly, Gohir points out in her report Understanding the Other Perspective: Muslim and non-Muslim Relations, many people (66 per cent according to a 2002 You Gov opinion poll) draw most of their information about Islam and Muslim communities from the media. Elizabeth Poole's research also illustrates "the desire of some non-Muslims to learn about and be sensitive to other cultures, but media information is limiting their knowledge and understanding of Islam." She suggests that if exposed to a greater diversity of information, relations could be improved.

Given the fact that most non-Muslims get their information on Muslims and Islam from the media, it may explain why most of the UK and Jewish respondents polled do not think media coverage is a problem as they probably think what they are reading or hearing is true, the report points out.

Muslims have advocated measures that may help combat media bias such as employing more Muslims in the media, scholarships for Muslims entering the UK media, bringing regulations for print journalism in line with stricter TV and radio standards, and a statutory body to monitor and report on Islamophobia in UK. However, the UK public and Jewish respondents are not in favour of these measures.

CRITICISING DOUBLE STANDARDS: Shaista Gohir writes in her report, "Perhaps the findings also indicate that the West likes to practice 'balancing freedom of speech with responsibility and judgement' – but perhaps not when it relates to the Muslim perspective. An example that illustrates this point is that the same newspaper (Jyllands Posten) that printed the cartoons of prophet Mohammed had refused, three years previously, to print cartoons ridiculing Jesus as it risked offending Christians." (BBC)

An explanation for this, the report contends, could be that non-Muslims do not think that negative media coverage is a problem in the first place, and remedial action is therefore unnecessary. Also, they could be concerned about freedom of speech or feel that Muslims are receiving "special treatment." The least favoured option according to the UK public is scholarships for Muslims entering media.

Gohir writes, "People's attitudes towards Muslims have not only been influenced by the events of 9/11 and 7/7, but also as a result of the surrounding media coverage and discourse. It has become common place for Islamophobic sentiments to be expressed in mainstream media. As the media has a huge impact on people's views on Islam, it has a responsibility to present fair and accurate views."

She says that measures that should be considered to achieve this should include involving more Muslims to work in media and providing scholarships for Muslims entering UK media. Solutions that have been recommended in other studies should also be considered, e.g. modifying the code of ethics for professional journalists; tightening the Press Complaints Commission's self-regulatory code (as it only includes guidelines relating to religious discrimination against named individuals); and journalism courses to include the impact of religious stereotyping of Muslims and its negative impact on Muslims, as well as the wider community to avoid perpetuating prejudice.

Both the UK public and Muslim respondents list "double standards in condoning free speech" in their top five most serious problems. Although the Jewish respondents do not include this in their top five problematic issues, a modest majority (65 per cent) cite it as either a very significant or significant problem.

Even though the UK public expresses major concerns over "double standards in condoning free speech" combined with the fact they cite "balancing freedom of speech with responsibility and judgement" in their five most wanted solutions, only 29 per cent feel that the West is using the Danish cartoons to agitate Muslims.

AT THE RECEIVING END: A still from Kenneth Glenaan's compelling film Yasmin based on a story by Simon Beaufoy about a young Muslim woman's travails post 9/11. Most worryingly, Gohir points out in her report, many people draw most of their information about Islam and Muslim communities from the media. Elizabeth Poole's research also illustrates "the desire of some non-Muslims to learn about and be sensitive to other cultures, but media information is limiting their knowledge and understanding of Islam." She suggests that if exposed to a greater diversity of information, relations could be improved. (Kenneth Glenaan)

The results, according to Gohir, clearly indicate that non-Muslims do not understand why cartoons of prophet Mohammed were offensive to Muslims and the need for a greater understanding about religious sensitivities of Muslims. "Perhaps the findings also indicate that the West likes to practice 'balancing freedom of speech with responsibility and judgement' – but perhaps not when it relates to the Muslim perspective." An example that illustrates this point is that the same newspaper (Jyllands Posten) that printed the cartoons of prophet Mohammed had refused, three years previously, to print cartoons ridiculing Jesus as it risked offending Christians.

Another example of double standards is the case of the historian David Irving. Shortly after the cartoon row was published, he was sentenced for three years for denying the holocaust (as a number of European countries have laws against Holocaust denial). "He was rightly denied free speech for his unpalatable and inaccurate views. However, just as the holocaust denial is offensive to the Jewish community, the insulting cartoons of prophet Mohammed are as offensive to Muslims worldwide," argues Gohir.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Muslims (81 per cent) regard "the West as trying to agitate Muslims with the cartoons" as a very significant or significant problem, and similar numbers (80 per cent) indicate that they feel there are double standards in condoning free speech. However, the Muslim, UK and Jewish respondents all agree that "radical Muslims were using the cartoons to agitate Muslims."

Date posted: July 21, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 20091