UK Muslims still suffer media bias

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SHAFAQNA – The “inaccurate and misleading” depictions of Muslims and Islam in some British newspapers has fueled hostility, a senior official from the Muslim Council of Britain has told Shafaqna.

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said various studies had shown that “the way that the media reports about Muslims makes a major impact on the atmosphere of hostility against Muslims in the society”.

Versi cited police figures on rising hate crime in the country and said “a significant proportion of that or a proportion of that is because of the way that Muslims are understood or recognized or identified by wider society, and that is because of the way that the media portrays Muslims”.

Police data released in October 2016 revealed 5,468 religion- and race-motivated offenses — an average of around 180 cases per day — were reported in England and Wales in July that year, a 41 percent year-on-year rise.

Versi said: “Even young children — 30 percent of young children think that there are too many Muslims in the country.

“Where is this coming from? This must be coming from somewhere and one of the places it’s coming from is the way the media portrays Muslims.”

Versi gave some examples of news items where Muslims were depicted negatively, without justification.

“One example is where many tabloids said British Muslims are so cut out from society that they think 75 percent of the U.K. is Islamic. Now, this story was actually copied by far-right extremist websites to justify their narratives about how Muslims are — that’s how bad it is.

“And you may think this is only the tabloid press. But this story actually originated in The Times, in a newspaper you’d expect a lot better from.”

 ‘Responsible’ reporting

Versi said he was able to identify 40 such news articles produced by various media outlets in the past year.

“If there have been 40 that I have identified, there must be so many that others might have identified,” he said.

“What I wanted to do was recognize the importance of a free media, recognize how media helps in calling people to account… and work within the understanding of all journalists to encourage responsible reporting.

“And responsible reporting at the very minimum means not doing something which is inaccurate or misleading and therefore that’s the focus of what I have been doing.”

The issue of U.K. media depictions of the Muslim community has been the focus of other campaigners, academics and reporters.

An event held at Liverpool Hope University in July this year concluded that U.K. politicians should consider regulation to tackle the tide of negative media coverage about British Muslims.

One of its key findings was the need to raise awareness on issues facing Britain’s Muslims by urging politicians to engage more with the community.

Versi said the type of language used by some outlets had historical similarities to that used to demonize other minorities.

Referring to an opinion piece published on Aug. 13 by Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh — which resulted in an official complaint by Jewish and Muslim groups — Versi said: “Talking about the Muslims in the same way that the Nazis were talking about the Jews is seriously problematic.

Muslim ‘problem’

“That wasn’t just an issue about Muslims he is talking about… That phrase is the exact type of phrase which is used by the Nazis in Germany, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have said British Jews [found] this to be unacceptable behavior.”

Kavanagh later said the accusations of Islamophobia were “a ludicrous, offensive and perverse distortion of the truth”. The piece is still available on The Sun’s website.

Versi said he was looking for funding to institutionalize his work, creating “a team of people who can look at every single article on these issues, who can raise not only the minimalist complaints that I do specifically on inaccuracy”.

He said the print media did not have the same “stronger set of controls” that broadcasters had to adhere to under the rules of Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator.

However, attitudes seem to be hardening. A Monday survey by pollsters YouGov for the Arab News — a U.K.-based Arab-language newspaper — showed a majority of respondents favored racial profiling.

Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has become a “recurring experience,” the EU said last Thursday.

A report from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency found that although 76 percent of Muslims felt a strong attachment to the country they lived in, a significant proportion felt discriminated against.

The study found that 17 percent of Muslim respondents felt discriminated against on grounds of their religion or religious belief in the five years leading up to the research.

In 2008, the figure was 10 percent.

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