GUEST BLOG | New Media Guidelines for Reporting on Muslims and Islam

By Peter Hopkins, Professor at Newcastle University.

New media guidelines about reporting on Muslims and Islam in Scotland were published in November 2019. These were written by Uzma Mir, former BBC Scotland Executive Producer, and Peter Hopkins, Professor at Newcastle University. On this guest blog post, Peter Hopkins reflects on the key highlights of the recently launched guidance.

Information about the ‘Discrimination’ clause in the IMPRESS Standards Code is included below.

When Muslims are asked about who they hold responsible for increasing Islamophobia, they tend to have two answers – politicians and the media. How Islam and Muslims are reported about across diverse forms of media is important, as this sets the narratives through which readers, listeners and viewers understand the world. We all want a free press, but irresponsible or badly researched journalism can quickly become a fuel for hatred.

The main aim in producing these guidelines was to improve the portrayal, accuracy, representation and terminology used about Islam and Muslims. The full report – which was endorsed by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is availble to read here. A summary of the key recommendations is available here.

The guidelines draw upon findings from five focus groups, coupled with the experiences and research of the authors. The guidelines are part of the work of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia which is chaired by Anas Sarwar MSP.

Participants said 'headlines hurt' and questioned why there are not more positive stories about Muslims in the media. The report found that terminology is often used without much regard for accuracy – such as the terms 'hijab' and 'burka' being used interchangeably – and articles sometimes reference an individual's Muslim faith when it was unclear what relevance this had to the story overall.

The report's co-author Uzma Mir said:

"The media has significant power in shaping how Islam and Muslims are represented and therefore the extent to which Muslims experience everyday racism and Islamophobia. In most polls and from our own work with focus groups, many Muslims felt that that there was an issue with Islamophobia and that the media played a major part in its rise. We hope these guidelines encourage further change and are a useful tool for those working in different roles and in diverse forms of media in Scotland."

Our main aim in producing these guidelines is to improve the quality of press coverage about Islam and Muslims. We know from research that problematic media representations play a key role in fostering Islamophobia so we hope that this guidance will help to improve the portrayal, accuracy, representation and terminology used about Islam and Muslims, for the benefit of all. Journalists and programme-makers should strive to offer more regular coverage of the positive qualities, contributions and successes of the Muslim community rather than only focusing on the negative or more sensationalist stories.

The hope is that the guidelines are a useful tool for those working different roles and in diverse forms of media.

About Peter Hopkins

Peter Hopkins is a Professor of Social Geography and University Dean of Social Justice at Newcastle University. As Dean, he leads on embedding the principles of social justice within the different functions of the University. His research and teaching interests centre upon the challenges and complexities of social inequality and justice, and how these interrelate with debates about equality and diversity. He also provides the Secretariat for the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia in the Scottish Parliament that was set up in 2018. He has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and an MRes and BA(Hons) from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. More about Peter Hopkins.

IMPRESS Standards Code: Discrimination

Clause #4 of the IMPRESS Standards Code addresses ‘Discrimination’. It instructs that publishers ‘must not make prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person on the basis of that person’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that person vulnerable to discrimination.’

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