by Ghazal Tipu
Muslim faith leaders, media professionals, activists and students gathered in an event last week, in a bid to gather grassroots support for media reform. A groundswell of support from the UK’s largest minority community could prove a real boost for the media reform movement. As a population of three million in the UK, Muslims feel vilified by sensational and misinformed news content particular in tabloid and right-wing media.
iEngage hosted the event, a not-for-profit organization that was set up in 2008 to encourage the participation of British Muslims in media and politics. A core function of its work is monitoring Islamophobic and inaccurate media content. Sensational and polemical British headlines will not have escaped anybody’s notice since 9/11. Only recently, Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail was heavily criticized for his satirical attack on a Muslim family day out in Legoland, “Jolly jihadi boy’s outing to Legoland”. Legoland was forced to cancel the event after a tirade of abusive comments on social media from the far right.
Brian Cathcart, founder of Hacked Off, started by acknowledging the deterioration of journalistic standards, “I don’t need to tell you about the damaging way in which the press affects many lives” he said. The media was a source of shame to him as a lifelong journalist. Current pushes for media reform in the wake of the Royal Charter, however, spell hope for victims of the media. Cathcart told the audience that, “We are close to something that will make a difference”. He emphasized the timeliness of taking action now while newspaper proprietors are playing for time.
Second speaker Sufyan Ismail, CEO of iEngage, said the press must be stopped from derailing the reform process. He informed the audience about Lord Justice Leveson’s 47 recommendations including the Royal Charter, while the press on the other hand, has pushed for its own regulatory body IPSO. The latter body would not be as accountable as the Royal Charter, with two out of five press officials sitting on the IPSO board having a power to veto.
Ismail highlighted how Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations would apply to recent media debacles. A recent Telegraph article reported on Prince Charles’ claim that ‘fundamentalist Islamist militants’ posed a threat to Christianity and, lo-and-behold, The Times reported the same story – headlined ‘Islamist threat to Christians’ – in the tiresome and divisive ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative (The Times headline had originally said “Islam a threat to Christians” but later amended). “Under Leveson’s charter, you would have an immediate apology”, said Ismail, because a third party can make a complaint. An apology by a newspaper, moreover, would need to be the same size as the original inaccurate headline. Current apologies are often miniscule and found in newspaper back pages.
Isamail ended the event by galvanizing the audience’s commitment to the campaign in the months ahead – to pledge to write to their MPs and the Culture Secretary, and to get involved.
iEngage’s event with Hacked Off was a positive step in the campaign for media reform. This campaign needs grassroots and popular support, and politicized British Muslims could play a critical part. They understand all too well the media’s current tactics to resist reforms. Its espoused rhetoric of ‘freedom of expression’ is not a genuine search and expression for truth, but in reality a justification for lazy and misinformed journalism in the pursuit of profit. The Royal Charter presents a formidable opportunity towards media accountability. British Muslims have a direct interest in supporting such a campaign and must spur into action at this present and critical juncture.