Journalists' and Educators' Perspectives on News Media Reporting of Islam and Muslim Communities in Australia and New Zealand
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We know much about how the news media report on the topic of Muslims and Islam, but we know very little about the journalistic practices and processes that contribute to the way these issues are framed and reported. Whereas research has until now largely focused on the ways in which Islam and Muslims are represented in various news media, there is relatively little research that explores the issue from the perspective of key people working in the news media. In order to address what we perceive as a significant gap in the research, we draw on data from interviews with 29 journalists, editors, media trainers, and journalism educators located in Australia and New Zealand to explore their understandings of the ways stories about Islam and Muslims are reported and why. The article also investigates the interviewees’ perceptions of the effects of news media coverage of Muslims and Islam. Our findings present a starting point to improving practice for those reporting on Islam and Muslim and inform the development of training modules in the reporting of Islam for journalists and journalism students. The problematic nature of news media reportage of Islam and Muslims has been a significant focus of research. A key finding of the research is that much of the mainstream news media reportage of Islam and Muslims involves stereotypical approaches and generally negative representations of Islam and its adherents as different, strange, and threatening (Saeed, 2003 Saeed, A. (2003). Islam in Australia. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin. [Google Scholar] , 2007 Saeed, A. (2007). Media racism and Islamophobia: The representation of Islam and Muslims in the media. Sociology Compass, 1(2), 443–462. [Crossref], [Google Scholar] ). While there is evidence that prior to 9/11 the news media coverage of Islam and Muslims was problematic (Manning, 2003 Manning, P. (2003). Arabic and Muslim people in Sydney’s daily newspapers, before and after September 11. Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, 109, 50–70. [Google Scholar] ; Nacos & Torres-Reyna, 2003 Nacos, B. L., & Torres-Reyna, O. (2003). Framing Muslim-Americans before and after 9/11. In P. Norris, M. Kern, & M. Just (Eds.), Framing terrorism: The news media, the government and the public (pp. 133–157). New York, NY: Routledge. [Google Scholar] ), since 9/11 news media reports of Muslims have consistently linked them to terrorism and Islam has been depicted as a religion that condones violence (Aly, 2007 Aly, A. (2007). Australian Muslim responses to the discourse on terrorism in the Australian popular media. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 42(1), 27–40. [Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar] ; Manning, 2006a Manning, P. (2006a). Us and them: A journalist’s investigation of media, Muslims and the Middle East. Sydney, Australia: Random House. [Google Scholar] , 2006b; Richardson, 2001 Richardson, J. (2001). British Muslims in the broadsheet press: A challenge to cultural hegemony? Journalism Studies, 2(2), 221–242. [Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar] ). Researchers have also identified that journalists rely too much on common news frames such as the need for Muslims to integrate (promoted by politicians and others) and to condemn terrorism. This combines with the framing of news reports through a lens that positions the values of Islam and the West as being antithetical, and that Islam is at odds with the principles of liberal justice (Rane, Ewart, & Martinkus, 2014 Rane, H., Ewart, J., & Martinkus, J. (2014). Media framing of the Muslim world: Conflicts, crises and contexts. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. [Crossref], [Google Scholar] ). Other significant findings of the international body of research point to the failure of some mainstream reporters to include Muslim sources in stories about Muslims (Richardson, 2006 Richardson, J. (2006). Who gets to speak? A study of sources in the broadsheet press. In E. Poole & J. E. Richardson (Eds.), Muslims and the news media (pp. 89–102). London, UK: I. B. Tauris. [Google Scholar] ) and the pejorative use of the words “Muslims” and “Islam,” along with bias in language used in associated news reports. Significantly, few studies have focused on the reactions of and responses to such news media portrayals by Muslims, but those that have explored this aspect reveal that there is little or no trust in their views of the news media (Awan, 2008 Awan, A. N. (2008). Antecedents of Islamic political radicalism among Muslim communities in Europe. PS: Political Science & Politics, 41(1), 13–17. [Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar] ; Güney, 2010 Güney, Ü. (2010). “We see our people suffering”: The war, the mass media and the reproduction of Muslim identity among youth. Media, War & Conflict, 3(2), 168–181. [Crossref], [Google Scholar] ). An associated issue is that the news media representations contribute to the social exclusion of Muslims. Few researchers have explored these issues from the perspective of journalists, journalism educators, media trainers, and communication specialists. Our aim is to redress this gap in the research by drawing on data from an Australian study involving 29 in-depth interviews with journalists, journalism educators, and media trainers. These interviews focused on study participants’ perspectives and perceptions of news media coverage of Islam and Muslims. We believe this is an important first step in the process of addressing some of the reporting practices associated with news coverage of Islam and Muslims that researchers have identified as problematic. Understanding the perspectives of those who gather, write, and produce news and those who train journalists and journalism students will enable the development of appropriate tools and training curricula and pedagogies to facilitate improvements in reportage. While we recognize that journalistic practices differ according to the geographical, political, and socio-cultural contexts in which they occur, we suggest that our study and its findings will be useful for journalists, journalism educators, news media trainers, and researchers in a variety of contexts. The data and analysis that emerged from the interviews about journalistic practice could prove to be similar in other Western democracies. In the following sections, we outline relevant aspects of the literature, explain our methodology, and present our findings.
Journal of Media and Religion