Book review: Images of Islam in the UK – The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008
Authors: Kerry Moore, Paul Mason and Justin Lewis
Published by: Cardiff School of Journalism,Media and Cultural Studies
Date: July 2008
Downloadable from: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/resources/08channel4-dispatches.pdf
Cardiff University’s School of Journalism is renowned centre for the study of all aspects of journalism, mass media and cultural studies.
The School was commissioned by Channel 4 to conduct research into media coverage of British Muslims, which was undertaken via three approaches:
– a content analysis of 974 newspaper articles about British Muslims in the British Press from 2000-2008
– an analysis of the visuals/images used in articles about British Muslims in the British Press in 2007 and 2008.
– A series of case studies of stories about British Muslims in the British Press.
The Cardiff researchers note that “coverage of British Muslims has increased significantly since 2000, peaking in 2006, and remaining at high levels in 2007 and 2008. This rise is partly explained by the increase in coverage devoted to terrorism and terrorism related stories – 36% of stories about British Muslims overall are about terrorism….in recent years, however, we have seen the increasing importance of stories focusing on religious and cultural differences between Islam and British culture or the West in general (22% of stories overall) or Islamic extremism (11% overall). Indeed, 2008 was the first year in which the volume of stories about religious and cultural differences (32% of stories by 2008) overtook terrorism related stories (27% by 2008). Coverage of attacks on or problems facing Muslims, on the other hand, has steadily declined as a proportion of coverage. In sum, we found that the bulk of coverage of British Muslims – around two thirds – focuses on Muslims as a threat (in relation to terrorism), a problem (in terms of differences in values) or both (Muslim extremism in general)”.
The researchers observe, “we found a widespread use of police mugshots used in portrayal of Muslim men (with all the negative associations these carry), while two of the most common venues used for images of Muslim men were outside police stations and law courts”.
Elsewhere the report notes that “to a great extent the impression created about British Muslims is likely to come from the context in which they appear: thus the fact that the stories tend to be about terrorism, cultural differences or extremism (especially in the tabloids) is likely to create associations in people’s minds between Islam and these issues”. While acknowledging that “the print media is just one site of representation through which ideas about Muslims in Britain are constructed, nevertheless, “it is an immensely important one”.
“Discourses in defence of Muslim human rights have, on the whole become less prominent, while the idea that Islam is dangerous or irrational has become more commonplace. If we compare the discourses used in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, we see, once again, that similarities are more striking than differences. Nonetheless, some of the more negative discourses do appear to be more prominent in the tabloids. We found that the two most common discourses, ‘Muslims linked to the threat of terrorism’ and ‘Islam as dangerous, backward or irrational’ are both more common to tabloid newspapers…the idea of the ‘clash of civilisations’ with its negative connotations – also tends to be a broadsheet rather than a tablid discourse, placing Muslims in opposition to Western values in a more internationalist framework.”
The report includes more detailed analysis of five events: the Phil Woolas suggestion in February 2008 relating to disability amongst Pakistanis stemming from inter family marriage; Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari’s remarks in November 2007 in which he warned of Muslims in Britain being treated like Jews in 1930s’ Europe; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Shariah speech of February 2008; reportage on the number of mosques in Britain; Bishop Nazir-Ali and others’ comments on Muslim ‘self-segregation’ and ‘no-go’ areas.
The findings make disturbing reading, but confirm the study commissioned by the London Mayor’s Office published in 2007. Both studies provide empirical evidence of anti-Muslim racism in contemporary Britain. There should be little room for complacency in the face of this mass of data.