By Irfan Jalil
"The media" eh? God bless it. It's normally a popular subject at the sheesha joints. We can blame it for all the ills of the world.
We'd love to have a good old bash, but someone realised that we, "The Revival", are part of the media too. The magazine. The website. The interviews. It's all a part of the media. So we toned it all down and decided to concentrate on other media outlets.
The media has a strong influence on public opinion. It provides not only information but ways of looking at the world. It informs and influences. Issues about Muslims are very often shaped by the media.
In Britain, the newspapers are divided into tabloids and broadsheets. The tabloids focus on dramatic content, alluring imagery and entertainment value. Complex situations are reduced by the tabloids to simple generalisations with only superficial explanations. The broadsheets, or “quality” papers, go in for more complex details. They use bigger words and give you a lot more information.
Left or Right wing?
Almost all media outlets have a political bias. However, media bias is more apparent in newspapers than on the television. Newspapers are generally either right wing or left wing. The papers on the right tend to be more reactionary than those on the left. They tend to be tougher on crime and meting out punishment.
A welfare state may be seen as important, but not to the extent that the more left wing papers see it. Where right-wing papers emphasise the importance of the individual, left-wing newspapers are associated with more liberal values, the role of society, and the community as a whole.
As more and more newspapers come to be owned by fewer and fewer people there is the very real danger that editorial perspectives and biases will conform to a narrow set of right-wing values.
Television stations in this country are expected to follow tight rules so that they remain as objective as possible in their reporting. Complaints are more likely to be taken seriously by television news outlets than they are by newspapers.
The Sun is the biggest-selling newspaper in the country. It is believed that the Sun had a close relationship with former PM Tony Blair. Sun’s target audience is mostly the working-class. However, it is pro-business and pro-war.
The Mirror considers itself to be the Sun’s main competitor. The Mirror is more left leaning than the Sun but it’s not as left as the Guardian or Independent. In 2003 it opposed the Iraq War.
The Daily Mail sees itself as more than just a tabloid and tries to appeal to a middle class audience. This newspaper often focuses on immigration and house prices. The Daily Mail’s owners also own the London Evening Standard and the free Metro. Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn are Daily Mail columnists whose writing is often anti-Muslim.
The Express sees itself as a rival to the Daily Mail. As a result of this, it often tries to be more anti-immigrant and more anti-Muslim than the Mail. The readership for this paper is steadily falling. The owner of the Express is a former pornographer and also owns the Daily Star.
The Metro is a tabloid which is always short on detail because it is targeted at people who want to have a quick glance at a newspaper on their way to work. It's not taken seriously - well, only by advertisers. As such, the Metro does not have a left or right slant.
It has no Op/Ed page preferring to carry readers letters rather than columns and editorials. Because it is so lightweight, it doesn't have a stance on major issues be it Muslims, Europe, or gay rights.
The Telegraph is the biggest selling broadsheet newspaper in the UK. It is the most right-wing of the broadsheets and is considered to be a strong Conservative Party supporter. It is also pro-Israel.
The Times tries to target the same audience as the Telegraph and is similarly pro-Israel. Currently the Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch – he also owns the Sun and Sky News in the UK and the New York Post and the Fox News channel in the US. Michael Gove and Rod Liddle often write columns for the Times which arouse fears and suspicion of Muslims.
The Guardian is a liberal left-leaning newspaper. The Iraq War was opposed by both the Guardian and the Independent. It is owned by a not-forprofit trust which ensures that the editorial stance of the paper remains independent.
Independent is similar to the Guardian in that it attracts a left-leaning liberal readership.
The Independent and Guardian take a generally objective approach towards issues about ethnic minorities.
The BBC is funded by your license fee, and, because it's funded by you, it has to be free of any political influence. It is the largest news broadcaster in the world. Radio 4 and Radio 5 are the BBC's major news and speech radio stations. Radio 4's programming carries in-depth documentaries and news, as well as comedy and drama. Radio 5 has 24-hour news, talk and sport.
Sky News is the BBC's main UK competitor. It is owned by Rupert Murdoch – the guy who also owns Fox News.
CNN was the world's first 24-hour news channel. Grainy coverage of US bombing raids in the first Gulf War is what made CNN a household name worldwide.
Al Jazeera has Arabic and English 24-hour news channels. It's based in Qatar, a small country in the Middle East. It first became famous because it presented a wide-range of political views in a region where the media tends to be heavily government-controlled. Al Jazeera has had its HQs in Kabul and Baghdad bombed by the US. One of its reporters, Sami Al-Hajj, is being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Muslims are invariably presented in the press as people who are a problem. Negative stories about Muslims are sensationalised by being placed on the front page and other prominent places in a newspaper. Such stories are often exaggerated, unreliable or just plain false.
In June 2006 newspaper front pages aroused fears when police raided a Muslim home looking for a chemical bomb device. No device was found – however when a BNP member was arrested after chemicals were found at his house the papers made no mention of it. Last year the Sun, on its front page, wrote about how Muslim asylum seekers had been harassing and abusing soldiers who had retuned from Iraq.
Four months later it a printed a short apology at the bottom of page 4 to say that the story was false. (1)
Rolling 24 hour news channels usually don't have a lot to talk about. It's the same thing over and over. This means that if the police raid a Muslim family home or business, it's what's gonna be on the news for the most part of the day. You'll hear the words 'Muslim', 'terrorists', 'attack' and 'bomb' for hours on end.
The opinion and comment pages of a newspaper are used to give columnists and prominent people a platform from which to advance their views and influence attitudes. However, there are several columnists in today’s British press who put forward anti-Muslim views.
These columnists question the notion of a multicultural society, they challenge definitions of Islamophobia and offer their own portrayals of what a “good” Muslim should be.
They pepper their articles with denials of Islamophobia but also demand that Muslims change their opinions to conform with those of the columnists’. For example Melanie Phillips says that to be a “moderate” a Muslim has to see Israel as a victim and not as an aggressor.
However, media distortion of minority communities is nothing new. Muslims are not the first group of people to be treated in this way by the press. The press has aroused hatred and artificial scares before.
During the 1930s the Daily Mail supported Hitler and fascism. During the 1970s and 1980s the press featured stories about “floods” of black and Asian immigrants and it gave exaggerated attention to Enoch Powell, a racist MP.
The press justified police harassment of minorities by linking black youngsters to crime and the right-wing papers have in the past opposed government and local authority attempts to tackle racist attitudes.
What you can do?
The media is not at all completely opposed to Muslims. There is often explicit anti-Muslim prejudice in the Sun and Daily Mail, however, liberal and humane ideas of tolerance and open-mindedness are found regularly in the Independent and Guardian.
Prominent Muslims are often given the opportunity to put forward their views on television and in the press - whether right-wing or left. And just as anti-black reporting has now almost disappeared, there will be a time when anti-Muslim reporting too is pushed out. However, you can do your bit to make that possible.
First off, educate yourself – find out about how the media misrepresents Muslims. Read books such as Analysing Newspapers by John E Richardson. Also, check out the following websites:
- Islamophobia Watch documents Islamophobic stories and commentary in the public domain and especially in the media.
- MPACUK highlights and challenges discriminatory and prejudicial reporting about Muslim issues in the press and wider media.
- Arab Media Watch aims to get the British media to give objective coverage to Arab issues.
Secondly, complain to newspapers and television stations whenever you think that their reporting is unfair, unreliable, and prejudiced. But remember, it's also important to give positive feedback whenever you see a good piece of reporting.
You can make a complaint or send feedback by post, telephone or email.