Thursday, 26 September 2013

How to Positively Engage with the Media (full version)

This is a really important post, please read either this one or the short version.

Part A : Report on a talk by Martin Moore entitled "How to Positively Engage with the Media : Strategies for British Muslims"

Part B : Report on a Media Awareness Workshop by Engage


How to Positively Engage with the Media : Strategies for British Muslims
Martin Moore has worked in the news media for over a decade, for the BBC, Channel 4, NTL, IPC Media, Trinity Mirror and others. He is now director of the Media Standards Trust, an organisation that describes itself as :

"an independent registered charity which aims to foster high standards in news media on behalf of the public. We’re a ‘think-and-do-tank’, conducting research on important media issues but also running projects (such as building websites, running prizes and organising events) to promote quality, transparency and accountability in news. We are committed to the freedom of the press, and are not aligned with any political party or particular media company (though we work with a variety of news organisations and individual journalists and developers)..

The talk covered four main areas:

1) Is there a problem with the portrayal of Islam in the media? (BFTF: Bit of a rhetorical question, this one)
2) If so, why?
3) Does it matter?
4) What can be done?

to which BFTF has added two extra sections:

5) Other Comments
6) Related Content

Martin Moore at Bobbers Mill Community Centre

1) Is there a problem with the portrayal of Islam in the media?

Martin firstly commented that there was a great deal of good reporting out there and emphasised that "journalism is a process that has to be done at great speed", with the result that mistakes get made.

Nevertheless, he added that there was a serious problem, giving the recent example of how a story about a Muslim woman who had been ordered to remove her veil when giving evidence at court quickly turned into a wave of stories across the media focussed on the the possibiliy of banning the veil in schools and hospitals The media pressure resulted in the story also talking up a political dimension, with the, and then took on a political dimension with Jeremy Browne, the Home Office Minister, called for a "national debate" on the niqab and Dr Dan Poulter, the health minister, ordering a review of guidance on the issue.

(BFTF, and many others note that there are few, if any, veiled women in the frontline of the NHS and that a number of NHS hospitals have already put rules in place making clear that frontline staff must have their face visible when dealing with patients. Another point worth noting is that a story about a college banning, and then allowing, the wearing of veils was also a significant contributory factor to the way the story developed in the media)

Martin commented that the prevalence of stories that protrayed Muslims in a negative light had increased dramatically since 9/11 and gave some feeling for the extect of the problem by quoting a report that said:

"So, for example, the idea that Islam is dangerous, backward or irrational is present in 26% of stories. By contrast, only 2% of stories contained the proposition that Muslims supported dominant moral values.

Similarly, we found that the most common nouns used in relation to British Muslims were terrorist, extremist, Islamist, suicide bomber and militant, with very few positive nouns (such as ‘scholar’) used. The most common adjectives used were radical, fanatical, fundamentalist, extremist and militant. Indeed, references to radical Muslims outnumber references to moderate Muslims by 17 to one."

Why no mention in the media of Muslim run foodbanks?

Another example given was that of a GLA report (full report here) which noted that, whilst there were examples of good reporting, media coverage of Islam and Muslims was negative, as described in extract below.

" 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 in the media 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 seen in the media 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 over-simplified.

5. The tone of language is frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist and abusive.

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 may 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, multi-faith democracy.

Another strand of stories implies that state authorities were chamging the UK's culture to accomodate Muslims, an example being the annual slew of stories railing against the "renaming" of Christmas (see here and here. The Christian-Muslim forum perhaps hit the nail on the head in their statement which said:

"Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme Right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold."

Martin also mentioned a resignation letter that had been written by Richard Peppiat to the Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Star.

Christmas? Bring it on !

2) If so, why?
Martin explained that one reason for the poor reporting of Muslims was that media organisations had a significant lack of knowledge about faiths, especially Islam.

Refernce was again made to the excellent "The search for common ground" GLA report, which interviewed a number of Muslim journalists and made the following comments regarding Muslim journalists:
"When writing about issues concerning Islam or Muslims they [Muslim Journalists] are more likely to do so with sensitivity and fairness, and awareness of complexity [and] interacting with members of the public who are Muslims they are more likely to establish a rapport and to win people’s trust and confidence. They are able to advise and challenge colleagues, including senior editors, about how certain stories should and should not be covered."
The report also gives advice to news media managers:

"It is important, however, that senior managers in news organisations should understand that there is a wide range of opinion, outlook and practice amongst journalists of Muslim backgrounds, as amongst people of Muslim backgrounds more generally. Not all practise the religion, for example, and no single individual should be treated as a representative or ambassador.

[Managers should] recognise that journalists of Muslim backgrounds are keen to be seen essentially as journalists who happen to be Muslims rather than Muslims who happen to be journalists and resist pressures to limit people’s career prospects by pigeon-holing and typecasting them into a narrow range of work."

Martin quoted one of the journalists who commented on the view in the newsroom as being one where :
‘The idea was that they were all part of the same tree and it could all be explained through a set of common behavioural characteristics in a way that would be absolutely shocking if it was said about any other ethnic group"

And it is perhaps worth mentioning this quote from the same reporter:

‘The crucial fact is that the leader writers, decision-makers, columnists didn’t have any Muslim friends. So you lacked fundamentally the empathy to be able to say, well we can’t just group an entire two million people as all the same. The idea that there was this Islamic monolith that was about to take over, and all thought the same and had this rabid anti-intellectual inability to reason, seemed quite prevalent even in the very highest decision-making parts of the media... The biggest problem for me came in realising that being scared shitless by this big group of people that are out to get you is actually quite a good story. People have an interest, and always have had, in having bogeymen. That’s more or less what is happening."

During the Q&A session after the talk, a member of the audience commented that perhaps sponsoring internships in local media orgs was a way of encouraging engagement between young Muslim adults and media organisations

Invite journalists to your events

3) Does it matter?
Martin gave a number of reasons as to why we should care about biased reporting in the media.

Firstly, it has a real impact on the levels of hate crime, as shown by the statisics reported by TellMAMA.

Secondly, biased and misleading reporting encourages far right organisations such as the EDL.

Thirdly, it affects the behaviour of public institutions.

Have you engaged with the PCC, and told your MP what your experience was like?

4) What can be done?
This was inevitably going to be the key to the whole talk, and Martin provided some valuable guidance on what does, or does not work when dealing with media organisations.

Engage : Martin pointed out that it is much harder to cariacature someone you do not know and that familiarity makes the "other" less threatening. For this reason it is important to engage with the media by meeting with journalists, writing (both positively and challegingly) to the local media and sharing events with the local media so that a relationship can be built with them.

Importantly, if the Muslim community wants positive stories in the media then they need to help the media to achieve this, possibly by providing guidance on the issues involved, or preparing press releases and other information so that journalists have the resources to report accurately on a story.

A good example is the "Science Media Centre" which offers journalists "an independent press office helping to ensure that the public have access to the best scientific evidence and expertise through the news media when science hits the headlines"

Inform : Martin again mentioned the need to help the media do its job by pointing out that the work done by TellMAMA had been picked up by the mainstream media and had resulted in a number of stories highlighting anti-Muslim attacks in the wake of the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby.

Challenge : Perhaps the most surprising revelation of the talk was Martin's comments that journalists can be quite thin skinned and sensitive to criticism, particularly if the criticism is well argued, evidence based, rational and delivered on a person-to-person level.

Karimia Institute (the parent organisation of Bobbers Mill Community Centre) was mentioned for the way it had placed a full page advert in the local press in the wake of the Lee Rigby killings, with Martin commenting that the local press had not expected that action and that it had been a successfull way of getting the message across to the local population.

Blog posts and Tweets, especially if they mentioned the name of the journalist who had penned the story, were also important means of challenging the media.

Surprisingly, challenges from individuals could be just as effective as those from organisations. In the case of the national media, perhaps even more so, as journalists would put up defensive barriers against challenges from organisations and did not view their challnges as being the same kind of human-to-human interaction characterised by contacts from ordinary citizens.

Martin also pointed out that there were some national media organisations that had a clear agenda of publishing stories adverse to the Muslim community - and challenging these organisations was much less likely to be effective -unless you were the specific person they were attacking.

An important point that was made was that Muslims, and Muslim organisations, had am important role to play in presenting a diversity of opinion. Not just in areas where the media, society or government is being challenged, but also by praising the media, society or the government when something postive has been achieved.,

And these interactions, challenging and praising, need to be on a variety of subjects, including those that are not exclusively "Islamic". An example given by a member of the audience during the Q&A was how they had read a story about the parks in the on-line version of the Nottingham Post and had left a comment saying that parks were a great asset to the city and that the council needed to look after them for future generations.

Why isn't the Muslim community fighting to protect the NHS?

5) Other Comments
The Chief Executive of Karimia, Dr Musharraf Hussain, made some opening and closing remarks, commenting on how the media "play a hugely important function" in society and adding that he hoped to set up a small group at Karimia who could engage with the media.


Report on a Media Awareness Workshop by Engage
The workshop was an excellent event, and it was great to see the presenters allowing so much interaction from the audience. Critically, Engage do not just preach about what people should be doing in terms of social action - they actually do it!!

As one might expect, the workshop covered a lot of the same ground as Martin Moore's talk, but there were still plenty of eye opening snippets of information worth noting :

Media Reach
The Sun and the Daily Mail are easily the biggest two newspapers in the UK (full data here):
The Sun: 2.4m circ
Daily Mail : 1.9m circ
Daily Mirror : 1.1m circ
Eve Std : 0.7m circ
Daily Telegraph : 0.6m circ
Daily Star : 0.5m circ
The Guardian : 0.2m circ

UK Print Media is almost all in the hands of just five people : Murdoch, Lebedev, Desmond, Assoc. News and Trinity Mirror.

The BBC provides 45% of news output in the UK, and Radios 1,2 and 4 have have of the UK radio audience

Online, BBC news also has the largest audience share (24%) followed by MailOnline (16%) and then the Guardian, Telegraph and Yahoo (10-11%)

Social Media is a disruptive technology. The rise of Citizen Journalism, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging etc mean that people can get there news from a variety of sources

The Media is the "Fourth Estate" (the other three being the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary) - but whereas the Media can destroy any politician or judge, there is no-one who can truly hold the media to account.

Muslims and the Media
Many of the images returned in a Google search for "Muslims" are of angry men, which is not a good starting point.

[BFTF: Although, to be fair, a search for "Christians" or "Jews" does not return a garden of Eden either. In contrast, the Sikh and Hindu demographics appear to have got their SEO very well sorted indeed.]

In the UK press, and relating to Muslims, refernences to "Terrorist" outnumber those to "Moderate" by 17 to 1

Often, TV debates will feature both an extremely liberal and an extremely intolerant Muslim - leaving the mainstream community without a voice.

But it is not all "doom and gloom". Engage pointed out that developing relationships with media (which means engaging to praise, to offer stories as well as to challenge) really can make a difference, as can having more Muslims in the media industry, in any role.
One of the Engage Team presenting the workshop

Regulating / Challenging Print Media Output
One way to challenge biased media stories is with a "letter to the editor". This is becoming something of a dying art, so any submitted letters have a high chance of being published, not least because the paper wants to show that its readers are engaged and have a variety of views. In online newssites, letters have essentially been replaced by the comments sections under the main article.

More formally, complaints should be directed to the Press Complaints Council (although, at the time of writing, this organisation is likely to be replaced by the Royal Charter or another industry led body.

Key sections of the PCC code are Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination)

Example of a successful complaint : "Poppy Bans".

Example of an unsuccessful complaint : "Bacon Smell" story

Regulating / Challenging Broadcast Media Output
In the case of the BBC, complain to them directly - you MUST use the word "complaint" or your challenge will be dismissed. It is likely that you will refer to sections 3 (Accuracy), 4 (Impartiality), 11 (War, Terrorism and Emergencies) and 12 (Religion) of the BBC Editorial Guidelines. Remember, you MUST challenge within 30 days of the programme being aired.

For other broadcast media (both TV and radio) challenge via OFCOM, probably using sections 2 (Harm), 4 (Religion) or 5 (Impartiality) of the OFCOM Code.

Examples of sucessful challenges include those regarding Jeremy Paxman and The Daily Mail.

Examples of unsuccessful challenges include those regarding Mic Righteous and Citizen Khan [a show that BFTF is rather fond of actually].

What next?
Be Active !
Sign up to the Engage mailing list to receive Action Alerts
Engage with local and national media - postitively and well as to challenge, on any subject as well as "Islamic" issues. Checkout what Engage have been doing, and how they have been doing it, here . You can do this stuff too !!!

6) Related Content
Praising the Daily Mail
Challenging the Daily Mail
Praising the BBC (see also here)
Challenging the BBC
The Best Thing About Living In The UK

Image Sources
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