I tend to participate a lot in conferences/seminars about Islam/racism/multiculturalism and the like. There is not a single meeting that goes by without someone accusing journalists and media for being responsible for racism or violence or radicalisation.
How come so many people hold journalists responsible? Do you agree? What can we do about it?
Magda

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Guardian diary editor Hugh Muir had some interesting things to say about this yesterday at an event in London organised to address the rise of racism and Islamophobia in the media.

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Of course media is a part of it, and has a big influence in people's opinions. I'm not saying it's the fault of every journalist, but still we can't ignore the fact how powerful media is and I believe it has something to do with the problem.

Hello Magda.

I understand where you are coming from because here in Australia that label is encouraged by writers like this who publish articles like this; thinking they can get away with it by labelling it "satire". Here are two links which will better explain in my view, how the Islamic community here are given a rubbishing:

 

http://newmatilda.com/2009/06/04/racism-worst-bad-thing-ever

http://newmatilda.com/2009/01/29/joy-violent-muslim-sex 

 

You will see that I was very vocal in my response because I don't think a controversial subject such as this should be made fun of; especially in today's critical world climate and especially not under the banner of 'journalism'. I read with interest Hugh Muir's comments and a good journalist will present the facts, cover their bases and we all know that nothing gets past the editor unless it has been deemed suitable for general consumption. Every journalist knows that presenting the facts is paramount in good journalism and they are given a panning because in the eyes of certain readers, they have power. They become a scapegoat and a platform for the disgruntled, closeted, racist-oriented faction of a community to hurl abuse at. This is an exclusive Australian web site so it is read only for international visitors. A lot of very learned people, academics, judiciary and high-profile media people write on this site.

 

You can see where I am coming from.

 

In Australia for example, we have a very large Muslim community. We have unrest here too and it is growing. The way of thinking here is very different with topics like this: we have long had a reputation for being a racist country and accordingly, some sections of the print and online media encourage that under the banner of 'having a good joke'. Is it any wonder people are casting the blame on journalists. This sort of talk stirs up trouble.

 

We all have a duty of care to how we report on this subject. In my opinion most of the reputable print and electronic media outlets do that but a small section fall through the cracks.

 

I think you will agree.

Thank you for your input in this discussion.

Nimish, I agree with you, officials have a rare tendency to put the blame on journalists. That is one thing. We are used to that I suppose ;-) and sometimes it can even be true, let's face it. A second and different thing is that they themselves often are the source of (racial/religious) prejudices in a society; they use blaming a particular community as a tool to win over voters. The problem is then that journalists are confronted with a dilemma: either we repeat what has been said, since these are facts, but it also means we kind of amplify it and give it more importance (Muusa is right about how powerful we can be), either we refuse to repeat the prejudices for deontological reasons (but it means we do not properly inform the public) or else, third possibility, we repeat but by denouncing the political motivaton behind. Which is probably what we should be doing, but how many journalists care to do that? Honestly, not so many I am afraid.  Look at poor little Belgium, we really have managed to make it a mess!

Jacqueline, I've read the two pieces of your links; honestly, I find it frightening that people can write things like that and get away with it. This is not funny, and not even satire, if you are asking me. And you are right, it stirs up trouble. Here in Belgium, people kind of like to joke about these things as well. Well, they say they joke. But I've never found this funny either.  What I feel sorry about is that no one would care to tell them they should stop. And when you do, the typical answer is "oh, it's only a joke, don't take it so seriously". In the end, there is no way you can make them understand how serious this can be. And how much it can hurt, or exclude, or stir trouble.

Should we then be more vocal against racism as journalists? Is that part of our duty ? Or would that make us go too far ?

 

Magda, This was my point exactly when I wrote a rather lengthy and very indignant response to this writer. The fall-out came with him rounding up all his supporters, equally as chauvinistic as himself (some women too) to discredit me and I later found some unsavoury comments from himself and those supporters on his Twitter. In Australia it is very much a blokey thing to cop out of serious issues by inferring humour. I have been quite outspoken on this site about racism and because it has a heading above it called "Satire" that is supposed to quantify the content. I was accused of having no sense of humour but the thing is, the editors of this site think it needs a "satirist" more than it needs a responsible journalist. He is actually very literate in his writing style, it's wasted on what he calls humour though. I have no problem with speaking out and if it goes against the majority then so be it.

I think as journalists (compared to commentators) we need to present the facts without prejudice, as is our craft and part of those facts are writers like the example I gave you; using a serious issue as a self-serving platform under the guise of humour. It is our duty to report the facts and if that comes with a barrage of objections we have still done our jobs.

We should not have to bear the brunt if we are doing our duty to the reading public. Our personal opinions as responsible journalists don't come into that but some readers don't see it that way because they don't have the level of non-bias and acquired detachment we do.

 

 

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