It started by the way of messengers and scribes, evolved through the presentation of newspapers and radio, brought us together with television, and now serve us worldwide via the ever-popular internet. It is the mass media, and even from the earliest days of its existence, it has contributed greatly in ways that both enlighten and enrich society, and ways that deteriorate and perplex it. It is not a surprise to learn, then, that the mass media is the most powerful source of information we have, and nothing else in today’s world influences public perception quite as heavily. Therefore, in Australia and around the world, the media has the unique and often grueling responsibility of reporting fair and unbiased news stories making the role of the media as informer and educator especially here in Australia, a crucial one.
In recent years, events in my culture of origin – the Islamic world, have captured the attention of the general public to a remarkable degree. Media coverage of these events, central among which has been the Islamic revolution in Iran, has since stimulated a widespread interest in Islam as a religion and culture. By contrast, with few exceptions, the media reports have tended to bolster existing prejudices or to confirm popular misconceptions, a point emphasized by Edward Said (1981). There are of course, well-informed journalists, whose reports on the Islamic world are frequently enlightening; some of which help to emulsify an oddball of assumptions that have been reported.
However, the problems of simplification and stereotyping that beset the popular media in most areas are greatly worsened here by the underlying ignorance of the public at large, concerning things Islamic, an ignorance which extends to languages, history, practices and much else. In relevance, the image of Islam that has been presented by the Australian media has distorted the views of the general public, an action that is critical, especially within the context of growing political and cultural interdependence. The perpetuation of stereotyped images is unfortunately not only driven by blinkered attitudes at home but also by forms of revivalism abroad that all too often conform to those images and thus enhance them in the Australian mind. In time when Islamophobia is on the rise, and the politically correct movement in Australia has left Muslims out in the cold, unbiased reporting is paramount.
Past media coverage of Vietnam and the Gulf war has suggested that the media does play a role in influencing public opinion, which can also have an effect on foreign policy decisions. Any Journalism class teaches students the W’s of reporting (who, what, where, when) but the way a reporter chooses to report a given story, can also be influenced by his own perceptions or personal biases.
Throughout the world, otherwise peaceful religions come under the abuse and manipulation of twisted individuals or groups to promote some cause or another. Countless acts of violence have been committed time and again under the guise of some so called religious cause. Yet when reporting terrorist incidents, the media repeatedly and unfairly targets Islam by naming the religion of the perpetrator thereby essentially equating Islam with terrorism. Hence, charged terms such as “Islamic extremists” or “Muslim terrorists” are frequently used in news stories.
“..Therefore the US intends to fight to detain Islamic extremists…” (Kitney 2002)
In an effort to lure viewers, the media also often relies on provocative sound bytes or headlines to capture their audiences to keep them tuned in. Consequently, it is no small wonder why Islam, has since been a misunderstood religion in Australia, being dubbed by a section of the media, the religion of extremism, fundamentalism and terror.
The September 11th event is one significant example in this context. The definition of this attack throughout the media has brought many changes in the eyes Australians towards their fellow local Muslim mates, seeing their religion as one that is perilous.
“Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the rightwing Christian Democratic Party, issued an inflammatory call for the New South Wales government to ban Muslim women from wearing the chador, the head-to-toe Islamic veil, in public. The coverings, he declared, were a “perfect disguise for terrorists” and could be used to “conceal both weapons and explosives.” (Phillips 2002)
It is substantially clear from Nile’s comments, and the article being published itself, not only how the Australian media presents the Muslim community, but also deprecating women in Islam, substituting their submission to God with acts of terrorism.
“As I trust you can see, from its very beginning Islam was spread by the edge of a sword. The history of Islam is replete with violence and warfare, from its birth to the present day” (Walker 2002)
Kitney, G. (2002). Wake up and wonder why. Sydney Morning Herald. New South Wales: 26.
Phillips, R. (2002). Australian prime minister gives nod to anti-Muslim racism. Retrieved 29 November 2002, from the World Socialist Web Site 1998/2003 Web site: http://www.wsws.