The need to develop a Muslim media toolkit
The majority of Americans say they do not know a Muslim. For many of these Americans, what they know about Muslims comes from media representation. However, according to media content analysis, more than 80% of television media coverage of Islam and Muslims in the United States is negative. Such narrow media representations open the door to distorted public perceptions of Muslims, especially in the absence of any first-hand knowledge of this diverse community. The role of the media in informing the public has never been more important, especially when it comes to marginalized communities. At the same time, journalists are constantly asked to cover more and more, with less resources.
As I’m developing my toolkit for writers to better cover Muslims and Islam in the media, I realize there are a lot of unconcious biases that can influence someone’s judgment in how a story is covered. This can come from someone’s life experiences that include, but is not limited to, where someone lives, where they went to school, their social and professional circles and more.
Media bias clearly exists. For example, perpetrators identified as Muslim have qualitatively different media coverage than perpetrators not identified as Muslim. Muslim-perceived perpetrators receive, on average, much more media coverage than non-Muslim-perceived perpetrators. An analysis according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding illustrated that more than double of the archives showed that in cases of violent ideological plots that were not carried out, Muslim-perceived perpetrators received an average of 770% more media coverage than non-Muslim-perceived perpetrators. The average number of articles written about Muslim-perceived perpetrators involved in primary incidents was more than double the average number of articles written about non-Muslim-perceived perpetrators.
I want to give newsrooms the tools to fairly and effectively represent the Muslim population in a writer’s daily coverage as a part of the greater community. This is why I’m working on this toolkit as it would be extremely useful and beneficial for all journalists to combat Islamophobia and be able to address Muslims and their practices appropriately.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued press releases from its national office six times as often in regards to violent plots by Muslim-perceived perpetrators than violent plots by non-Muslim-perceived perpetrators. Justice Department national press releases referenced ideology more often in releases about Muslim-perceived violent plots. Half of these included Muslim-associated ideologies in the headline or first paragraph. This is compared to only a quarter of non-Muslim-perceived plots having national press releases, and all mentioned the perpetrator’s identity further into the release. Local FBI Field Office and U.S. Attorney Office issued press releases at more even rates: 75% for Muslim-perceived cases and 83% for non-Muslim-perceived cases. The majority of media coverage on Islam and Muslims has been overwhelmingly reactionary, related to violence and public policy.
Knowing this, I want to give newsrooms the tools to fairly and effectively represent the Muslim population in a writer’s daily coverage as a part of the greater community. This is why I’m working on this toolkit as it would be extremely useful and beneficial for all journalists to combat Islamophobia and be able to address Muslims and their practices appropriately.
Journalists are to provide information truthfully and suitably for all, and a toolkit that provides guidance in mentioning Muslim community will only aid this purpose. The negative image on Islam must be challenged. Discriminatory acts are fueled by motives that the media can largely influence, and for this reason it is vital to address misstatements in the media and to change them. Ultimately, this way prejudices can be broken down and coverage on the positive aspects of Islam and achievements of Muslim individuals can flourish.
Here are some initial guidelines and tips I’ve come up with from the past three months of research that can help you in your daily work:
- Ask yourself when writing if it is really necessary to include your subject’s religion and nationality. What does that add to the story?
- Evaluate the way in which you are framing the story. What adjectives are you using? If there is something negative, did you fact-check?
- Verify your sources and seek diverse sources when reporting.
To make this toolkit happen, I still need your feedback here so can I further understand what features would make this toolkit most useful to you in your work.