Another Report Finds Anti-Muslim Bias in British News Media26 Aug 2020
Coverage of terrorist attacks in the British news media has been “consistently inconsistent” and often with an anti-Muslim bias. These are the findings of the Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM). The CfMM, which is part of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), published its report on the media coverage of terrorist attacks earlier this week.
The report found that terms such as “terror” and “terrorism” are used most frequently when reporting on “Islam” and “Muslim/s” in British news media. Many of the same outlets are unwilling to use “terror” or “terrorism” when the perpetrator was identified as “far-right”, “neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist”.
The report, which was published to coincide with the sentencing hearing of the perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019, noted that the disparity has reduced in recent years but remains.
“Terrorism is disproportionately the most recurring theme in British media when reporting on Muslims”
The CfMM report, which was released on Monday, noted that the association of “Muslims” and “terrorism” in news coverage has been a recurring theme since the 9/11 attacks.
The report adds to the findings of a previous report from 2018 which analysed 10,931 online news articles. Its findings were that a quarter of the pieces with an identifier of Muslims or Islam were coverage of terrorism or extremism. Further findings showed that between 2000 and 2008, a third of the articles in print media linked Muslims to terrorism. It warned that such reporting had a cumulative effect of creating the perception of a link between Islam and terrorism while leaving Muslims less likely to trust print media over the perceived biases.
The new report finds that words identifying Muslims or Islam are placed more frequently alongside terms such as “terror”, “terrorist” or “terrorism” in contrast to the when a perpetrator is described as of “far-right” or “white-supremacist”.
This is especially apparent between 2015 and 2019 when over half the references to “terror” and related terms were used alongside references to “Islam” and related terms. This is almost nine times more than terms relating to “terror” referencing “far-right” or “white-supremacist”.
In general, researchers found that members of the press were more likely to use “terrorism” and related terms if the perpetrator of an attack was Muslim.
A case study was presented with two incidents that took place in 2018: In August 2018, a Coventry resident, Salih Khater, reportedly drove at cyclists and police officers outside the Houses of Parliament. Khater said he was lost, panicked and lost control of his car. His online history or other activity showed no indication towards radicalisation or extremism. Despite this, newspapers were quick to report the incident as a terror attack.
A month later, a driver targeted Muslim worshippers at Al-Majlis Al-Hussaini Islamic Centre in Cricklewood, with the driver shouting “a tirade of Islamophobic and racist abuse.” Despite the deliberate and targeted nature of the attack, the press refrained from calling it a terror attack, with Daily Mail referring to “racist attack” and the Daily Express referring to it a “hit-run”.
CfMM’s report also warned that mainstream press has often failed to challenge pro-white supremacist and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the coverage. Furthermore, it finds that online news sites, such as the Mail Online, often referred to “Allahu Akbar” as a shorthand for motivation for terrorism committed by individuals of a Muslim background.
The disparity in bias reporting has reduced but remains
The CfMM report found that from 2019 onwards, news outlets took some effort to improve coverage, and that two events marked that shift. The first was the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which a far-right, white supremacist killed 51 Muslim worshippers. The second was an attack in El Paso, United States, in which a far-right extremist killed 22 people, while specifically targeting Hispanics.
These two events appear to have resulted in a re-evaluation of how these topics are covered in the British press. As a result, terms relating to “terrorist”, “terrorism” or “terror” were used alongside “Islam” or “Muslim” only twice as often as “far-right”, “neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist”. The report also found that mainstream British press outlets including the BBC, ITV and Sky have all shown much greater vigour exploring the topic of white supremacy. While a significant improvement, the disparity in coverage remains stark.
The report made a number of recommendations to help UK news outlets improve their coverage. Among other things, it called for: a transparent and public definition of terrorism that is consistently applied and used only when relevant facts are established; for journalists to avoid uncorroborated witness statements and making bogus links between terrorism and normal Islamic practices, such as attending a mosque; to avoid headlining the term “Allahu Akbar” as shorthand for motive; and called on outlets to avoid platforming far-right and white supremacist voices, “except in those circumstances where their views are contextualised and can be sufficiently challenged”.