Thursday, 15 November 2007

Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media

The search for common ground
Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media
A report commissioned by the Mayor of London

1) The search for common ground report pdf (180 pages)
2) The search for common ground report rtf (156 pages)
3) The search for common ground executive summary pdf (12 pages)
4) The search for common ground executive summary rtf (9 pages)

In 2006 the Greater London Authority (GLA) commissioned a study of media coverage of Islam and Muslims in the UK media. The study was co-ordinated by the Insted consultancy. It took place between 1 May 2006 and 30 April 2007 and involved:
• a review of recent opinion polls
• study of recent books and articles
• a survey of the news in one week
• consideration of stories about political correctness
• interviews with Muslim journalists
• analysis of a TV documentary.

The underlying questions for investigation were:
• Do the media promote informed debate about the building and maintenance of Britain as a multicultural society? Or do they oversimplify, giving insufficient information about the background to the news and pandering to readers’ and viewers’ anxieties and prejudices?
• How community-sensitive is media reporting about multiculturalism and British Muslim identities? Is it likely to foster anxiety, fear or hostility within particular communities – for example, in the views that non-Muslims have of Muslims, or that Muslims have of non-Muslims?
• Does media coverage hinder or promote mutual understanding? Does it increase or decrease a sense of common ground, shared belonging and civic responsibility?

Findings and conclusions
The project found examples of good practice. These included: the decision by every British national paper not to reprint the caricatures about Islam created in Denmark in 2005 and widely published in 2006 in most other European countries; the exercise of responsibility after 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005; a range of one-off news items, features, projects and investigative articles. But in most though not all of the UK print media, and for most, though not all of the time, the project found that:
1 The dominant view is that there is no common ground between the West and Islam, and that conflict between them is accordingly inevitable.
2 Muslims in Britain are depicted as a threat to traditional British customs, values and ways of life.
3 Alternative world views, understandings and opinions are not mentioned or are not given a fair hearing.
4 Facts are frequently distorted, exaggerated or oversimplified.
5 The tone of language is frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist or abusive.
6 The coverage is likely to provoke and increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and anxiety amongst non-Muslims.
7 The coverage is at the same time likely to provoke feelings of insecurity, vulnerability and alienation amongst Muslims, and in this way to weaken the Government’s measures to reduce and prevent extremism.
8 The coverage is unlikely to help diminish levels of hate crime and acts of unlawful discrimination by non-Muslims against Muslims.
9 The coverage is likely to be a major barrier preventing the success of the Government’s community cohesion policies and programmes.
10 The coverage is unlikely to contribute to informed discussion and debate amongst Muslims and non-Muslims about ways of working together to maintain and develop Britain as a multicultural, multifaith democracy.

Principal recommendations
In the light of this report:
1 News organisations should review their coverage of issues and events involving Muslims and Islam, and should consider drawing up codes of professional conduct and style guides about use of terminology. Such codes of professional conduct should be based on their own best practice.
2 News organisations should take measures, perhaps within the framework of positive action in equalities legislation, to recruit more journalists of Muslim heritage who can more accurately reflect the views and experiences of Muslim communities.
3 News organisations should also consider how best to give Muslim staff appropriate professional support and to prevent them being pigeon-holed as specialists in minority issues rather than concerned with the full spectrum of an organisation’s output.
4 Organisations, projects and programmes concerned with race relations should see and treat anti-Muslim prejudice as a form of discrimination, and as serious as other forms of discrimination.
5 The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) should focus explicitly on, amongst other concerns, combating anti-Muslim prejudice, both in society generally and in the media in particular.
6 The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) should give a higher profile to combating anti-Muslim prejudice in the media and the general climate of public opinion.
7 News organisations should treat seriously complaints relating to distorted coverage of Islam and Muslims in the media.
8 Consideration should again be given to amending the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC) terms of reference so it can consider distorted and inaccurate coverage of groups and communities as well as of individuals, and can consider complaints from third parties.
9 Organisations and institutions concerned with education should give consideration to how they can develop a) critical media literacy and b) religious literacy in the programmes, courses and curricula that they provide.
(The report defines religious literacy as ‘skills in understanding and assessing religious statements and behaviour; discerning the difference between valuable and harmful aspects of religion and religions; appreciating religious architecture, art, literature and music without necessarily accepting all the beliefs that they express or assume; and making reasonable accommodation between people holding different religious and non-religious worldviews.’)

1 Common ground? – issues, concerns and opinions 1

Studies and stories
2 A normal week? – threats and crises in Britain and the world 17

3 ‘Britishness is being destroyed’ – worries in a changing world 33

4 Being a journalist, being a Muslim – voices from the newsroom 53

5 ‘Full and fair debate’ – who speaks for British Muslims? 75

6 Histories, stories and Islamophobia – the content and form of narratives 99

7 Responsible journalism – principles and action points 115

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