* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
With 1.8 billion adherents worldwide, Islam is the world’s second top religion after Christianity, which has 2.4 billion followers. Yet the inaccurate and problematic ways some mainstream news media in non-Muslim majority countries (including in Australia) portray Islam and Muslims is pervasive. It includes falling back on Orientalist tropes, racism and negative stereotypes to depict Muslims as unwanted and even terroristic “others”, a threat to the very fabric of Western society and “backward” people at odds with so-called “Western values”.
Such reporting fuels anger and at times violence directed at Muslims, and people who “look” Muslim such as Arabs and Sikhs. This is dangerous for national well being as it acts to undermine social harmony and increase social division.
Professor Kevin Dunn from Western Sydney University describes the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in Australia as ‘calamitous’ and as something that ‘gives rise to moral panics, fear, and degraded community relations’. Such reporting is largely (although far from wholly) influenced by ignorance of Islam and the cultural diversity of its adherents. In fact, Australians generally know little about Islam and its followers, yet at the same time hold strong opinions about both.
How can we promote responsible reporting?
The focus of the multi-year Reporting Islam Project has been on changing the ways the Australian mainstream news media report stories about Muslims and their faith. We have sought to pivot journalists away from the status quo towards reporting underpinned by the norms of good journalism – informed and analytical coverage that reflects truthfulness, objectivity, accuracy, balance, and fairness.
In our book Reporting Islam: International best practice for journalists, we argue that journalists can and must do better. We offer tips, tools and practical advice about effecting this much-needed change. Words matter when reporting stories about Islam and Muslims. So too does the prevailing newsroom culture. A newsroom culture that rewards reporting through the lens of conflict and tension can perpetuate the problem and prevent journalists from challenging emotive and fear-based reporting.
Our book is the culmination of a four-year research project that was funded by the Australian Government. Based at Griffith University, the key focus of the Reporting Islam Project was to develop a suite of multi-media resources for journalists to use to improve their reporting and effect the type of changes needed.
The Reporting Islam Project has been a team effort and while was led by academics, it would not have been possible without great partnerships and buy-in from news media organisations, journalists, Muslim people and organisations, policymakers, and police. This is critical at a time when some politicians continue to use the presence of Muslims in Australia to drive wedge politics. The commitment shown by journalists and news media organisations to the training opens the door to challenging the negative and problematic narratives that some politicians use to cause social division and to fostering socially responsible journalism.
Guest post by Jacqui Ewart and Kate O’Donnell.
Kate O’Donnell is a career public servant turned academic whose research interests also include critical infrastructure resilience, policing of protest and energy security.
Jacqui Ewart is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Griffith University and a former journalist and media manager.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.