Sunday, 13 July 2014

Portrayal of Muslims in NCIS (2008)

Had an, ultimately fruitless, email discussion with Channel 5 back in 2008 about the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims on the US made NCIS drama...

13 April 2008
Subject: NCIS, Fri 11th April 2008

Dear Channel 5

I was deeply disturbed by the negative portrayal of Muslims in this episode of NCIS. Specifically:

i) A group calling itself something along the lines of "Muslims for Peace" turned out to be intent on performing suicide bombings. The implication being that Muslims are largely two faced, and not to be trusted. Having a group called ""Muslims for Peace" also implies that all other Muslims are "for War".

ii) Muslims were shown exclusively in a context of terrorism.

ii) Muslims having beards of wearing prayer-caps were exclusively shown be resentful of the NCIS agents in a way that is rare for other characters to be portrayed.

NCIS has a history of such portrayal. For instance in just three months last year it managed to rack up the following :

23rd March 2007 : 2 detectives found themselves in a crate of terrorist related "Al- Qaida" cash

24th March 2007 : Comments about Al-Qaida dropped into a conversation on a different topic

20th April 2007 : A decapitated head in the boot of a car prompts Ziva to tearfully tell how her friend was beheaded by Hamas in Ramallah

11th May 2007 : Ziva comments that "I've seen 12 yr old suicide bombers in Israel" in an eposide relating to a student who appeared to be a suicide bomber.

I can recall no positive portrayals of Muslims In addition there are running stories relating to Gibbs search for the terrorist "Ari", and the last season ended with a terrorist attack on a US naval ship.

I appreciate that this is a drama series and that terrorism is a legitimate topic. What is NOT acceptable is to link Muslims and terrorism repeatedly throughout a series - and to do so without any positive references to Muslims in storylines that are unconnected with terrorism.

It is inconceivable that that any other minority would be portrayed in such a systematically negative fashion. I would welcome some evidence from C5 that it has a larger number of positive portrayals of Muslims than negative ones in its dramatic output.

I would also ask C5 to consider the effect that consistently negative portrayals of Muslims have on community relations. Consistently negative portrayals of Muslims have an adverse effect on the perceptions that some non-Muslims have of Muslims. They also have the effect of demonstrating to some Muslims that the "establishment" is determined to portray them as the enemy within and that they will never be accepted in this country.

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17 April 2008
Dear Ash


Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding NCIS and the portrayal of Muslims.

We were sorry to learn that you feel that this series portrays Muslims in a negative way. Whilst we fully understand your sentiment based on your perception of the programme, we feel that you are mistaken. As the programme is set in a department of the US Military, it is entirely feasible that there will be mentions of terrorism related matters. The episode in question, titled Grace Period, features a number of Muslims but only two are found to be involved in terrorist activity. Indeed, other Muslims featured in the episode are either successful business owners, clerics working to promote peace or volunteer workers also keen on promoting peace. With the exception of the two terrorists in this episode, the portrayal of Muslims and interactions with NCIS staff was both positive and reverential.

Nonetheless, we understand your concerns and have logged your comments for the attention of all relevant Five personnel.

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17 April 2008
Dear Channel 5


Thank you for replying to my comments.

Unfortunately, you're responses do not answer my questions, and are incorrect in some respects. Specifically:

1) You state "the programme is set in a department of the US Military, it is entirely feasible that there will be mentions of terrorism related matters"

I agree with you, as shown by by original statement "I appreciate that this is a drama series and that terrorism is a legitimate topic"

2) You state "Indeed, other Muslims featured in the episode are either successful business owners, clerics working to promote peace or volunteer workers also keen on promoting peace. With the exception of the two terrorists in this episode, the portrayal of Muslims and interactions with NCIS staff was both positive and reverential".

This is plain wrong. My recollection is that the "business owner" was found to be a terrorist. Also the workers at his office scowled at the NCIS agents and were certainly not "reverential".

3) My comment was that "What is NOT acceptable is to link Muslims and terrorism repeatedly throughout a series - and to do so without any positive references to Muslims in storylines that are unconnected with terrorism". I would welcome your confirmation that you agree with this.

4) My question was "I would welcome some evidence from C5 that it has a larger number of postive portrayals of Muslims than negative ones in its dramatic output". An answer to this would be gratefully received. And please note, having a token "good Muslim" in a programme that otherwise contains Muslims that are bent on death and destruction does not, in my mind, particularly count as a positive portrayal.

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Date: 23rd April 2008
Dear Ash

Thank you for your further e-mails.We are sorry that you feel we did not address the questions in your previous e-mail.

It would appear that on your first point, you agree with our explanation. On your second point, we have watched the episode in question and stand by the information that we gave you on the various Muslim characters in that episode.

On your third point, the series does not link Muslims with terrorists. However, there are terrorists featured in the series who are Muslims. The episode Grace Period made it quite clear that these terrorists are a minority and do not represent the views of all Muslims, this was reiterated by a number of comments made by various characters through the episode.

Muslim fundamentalist terrorists do exist, as do fanatics of every race and creed, and as such are a legitimate inclusion in films or dramas. Fanatics shown in such films or series, regardless of their ethnic or religious group, are not implied to be representative of that group as a whole. Films regarding the IRA do not seek to suggest that all Irish people are terrorists, just as a series such as NCIS does not suggest that the terrorists featured represent all Muslims.

Your further comments have been logged in our Viewer Enquiries Report, which is circulated throughout the company.

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25th April 2008
Dear Channel 5


Thank you for taking the time to respond.

1) However, I am afraid that you have omitted to answer my key question :

"I would welcome some evidence from C5 that it has a larger number of positive portrayals of Muslims than negative ones in its dramatic output". An answer to this would be gratefully received. And please note, having a token "good Muslim" in a programme that otherwise contains Muslims that are bent on death and destruction does not, in my mind, particularly count as a positive portrayal. Had I known that your reply would respond to my other points and leave this one unanswered, I would have restrained myself to asking this one central question.

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The conversation went on a bit further after this, but not to any significant effect

Related Links http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-to-positively-engage-with-media.html
http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2013/03/positive-portrayals-of-muslims-in-media.html
http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/details-in-news-stories-simply-dont-get.html http://bftfblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/demonisation-of-muslims-in-media.html

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