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November 30, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:48am

Report: 60% of UK online news articles about Muslims are negative

By Charlotte Tobitt

The editors of The Sunday Times and Daily Mirror have backed a report that found almost 60% of online news articles made negative associations with Muslims and Islam and called for “fairer” reporting.

The top three news providers most likely to publish negative articles about Muslims were the agencies AFP, Reuters and Associated Press, the report claimed.  It argued they “set the framing of Muslims and Islam” in news reporting.

It called on news wires to “take particular care” in the terms they use given they are often copied wholesale by other media, as well as in their “reliance on singular witness reports especially related to terrorism given how unreliable they have been proven to be in many cases”.

The research from the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM) also found that 47% of TV clips associated Muslims or Islam with negative traits or behaviour.

The CfMM was founded by Miqdaad Versi, who routinely monitors press coverage of Muslims and Islam and makes complaints where he feels they are appropriate to the UK press regulators.

A Reuters spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Reuters is committed to reporting on the world in a fair, independent and balanced way, consistent with our trust principles.

“We are also committed to building a diverse newsroom that reflects the world we report on, and ensuring our journalism accurately represents diverse perspectives. We welcome this report and will review its findings.”

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The new report follows analysis of almost 48,000 online news articles and more than 5,500 TV clips following daily monitoring of coverage mentioning Muslims and Islam, whether in a passing manner or as the main focus of a story.

Some 34 mainstream news and current affairs websites and 38 TV channels, including all regional channels, were monitored between October 2018 and September 2019. A broader sweep of coverage was also examined in 2019/2020, taking in some of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report accused publications on the right politically of “increasingly regurgitating far-right tropes” and claimed commentators on the right “continuously rail against Muslims as an existential threat to Britain and the wider world”.

[Read more: MCB report says UK media has disproportionate focus on Islam when reporting terror]

Report author Faisal Hanif, a former Times reporter, said he hoped it would spur journalists on to engage in “fairer and more responsible reporting”.

He said “many journalists are willing to work with us in good faith. Yet there is a small minority with powerful voices in the media and elsewhere, who will seek to misrepresent our intentions by insinuating that we wish to censor and limit criticism of Islam and Muslims… At the end of the day, all we ask for is fairness, not favours.”

Sunday Times editor Emma Tucker said she welcomed the 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,” she said, as to serve her newspaper’s “broad readership we want to hear views from every part of it”.

Tucker added: “Despite our best efforts, we won’t always get it right; and of course, sometimes we will just see the issues differently.”

Mirror editor-in-chief Alison Phillips said the report “shows how much we as journalists must question ourselves and the work we are producing in relation to reporting of Muslims and Islam”.

“Challenging consensus through robust opinion and reporting are an essential part of journalism,” she said.

“Chasing clicks by being deliberately antagonistic and provocative does our profession a disservice. It is possible to craft an argument without resorting to lazy stereotypes or exploiting ungrounded fears about a particular community.

“A sensitivity towards others does not diminish your journalistic skills or somehow undermine the sacred idea of objectivity – it can only enhance the quality of your work.”

Phillips added that although journalists should not act as “standard bearers” for any particular group, faith or interest, they should report “without misrepresentation and generalisation and with accuracy and fairness”.

The report also shared some examples of best practice.

It pointed to BBC China correspondent John Sudworth’s 2018 report on China’s hidden camps for Uighur Muslims, The Sun’s featuring of Asma Shuweikh as a “hero of the week”, the Daily Telegraph featuring Muslim women supporting the NHS on its front page, and Stephen Daisley’s analysis in The Spectator of parent protests outside a Birmingham school – despite the magazine being “mostly antagonistic” towards Muslims.

Ahead of the publication of this report, Spectator columnist Charles Moore deemed CfMM an “unrepresentative attempt to decide what we are allowed to read about Islam and its followers”.

The online publication with the highest proportion (37%) of articles deemed s “antagonistic” towards Muslims according to the report’s methodology was The Spectator. The New Statesman had the highest proportion (16%) of “supportive” articles.

Overall a fifth (21%) of all the articles assessed were categorised as antagonistic compared to 3% deemed supportive. Meanwhile 14% of the articles were classed as being biased.

[Read more: Negative bias in most UK news reports about Muslims, study claims]

Online publications with the highest proportion of stories rated “very biased” (meaning at least four of these five factors: association with negative behaviour, misrepresentation, generalisations, lack of due prominence of a Muslim voice, and misleading or irrelevant imagery or headlines) were Christian Today (11%), The Spectator (11%), and Daily Mail Australia (10%).

The report found that almost one in ten articles misrepresented Muslims and/or Islam, with 82% of these in news (compared to opinion or features). It said one in four Spectator articles mentioning the subject contained misrepresentation, followed by Daily Mail Australia and Christian Today with at least one in five articles each.

It said Daily Mail Australia had the highest percentage of irrelevant or misleading headlines (14%), followed by The Sun (6%).

Some 7% per cent of all articles analysed included one or more
generalisations about Muslims and/or Islam while 10% of opinion articles did so.

In broadcast news, the report noted: “Right-wing pundits were frequently left unchallenged when making generalisations against Muslims including falsehoods.” It gave several examples from Sky News of tropes such as Muslims allegedly getting special treatment from the media or from airport and government authorities going unchallenged by guests.

The report shared a number of recommendations to improve reporting. They include:

  • Avoid linking ordinary Muslim belief to crime, terrorism or
    extremism, unless there is a specific justifiable reason to
    do so
  • Provide a platform to a broader range of Muslim
    perspectives, and avoid unrepresentative Muslim voices
  • Increase representation of Muslims within editorial roles
  • Offer training and encourage reporters to be aware of any potential biases
  • Publish corrections with equal weight to the original report
  • Take extreme care with terminology, especially the word “Islamism”
  • Cross-reference religious terminology with authentic Muslim and Islamic sources to ensure they are being used accurately
  • Avoid referencing to Muslims or Islam unless they are genuinely
    relevant to the story
  • Assess and reflect on overall coverage in terms of its negativity towards
  • Train journalists and editors to be aware of racist tropes and conspiracy theories
  • Avoid using generic images of Muslims when they risk reinforcing stereotypes

Picture: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

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