Guest blog: Reporting on Muslims and Islam

Fiyaz Mughal, Founder of Faith Matters and Tell MAMA, welcomes new IPSO guidance on reporting of Muslims and Islam. As with all our guest blogs, the opinions are those of the author.

Media focus on Muslims has intensified over the last two decades since 9/11. Many news articles have highlighted issues of extremism that have impacted communities, including Muslim communities. Fewer articles have highlighted positive aspects around British Muslim communities. 

For some, articles promoting negative views about Islam and British Muslims as ‘opinion pieces’ have been of great concern, as have ‘caricatures’ which could be seen to blur the line between fact and stereotyping, as though all Muslims ‘thought and acted’ the same. 

To my mind such actions demonstrated the slanted preconceptions of some reporters, though thankfully, these were only a tiny minority of journalists. The vast majority have sought to report accurately on facts and ensure that the clear lines between reporting and rhetoric never merged into the two. 

I remember the headlines across some newspapers in the 1980’s and 90’s which felt like they repeatedly pushed a view that British Muslims were somehow a threat to democracy and fifth columnists. 

Over the last decade much has changed. 

The overwhelming majority of journalists have reported on factual events, with a keen eye on the need for accuracy whilst ensuring that individuals were not discriminated against or whole communities were not caricatured. 

That much has changed for the better needs to be acknowledged. Therefore I warmly welcome the IPSO guidance for journalists, which has been developed to help editors and journalists comply with the standards set out in the Editors’ Code of Practice and which I hope will stimulate reflection when writing about Islam. 

It came about after extensive consultations with charities and social activists as well as an advisory committee that was formed specifically for this work. Most individuals on the advisory committee came from British Muslim communities with a very diverse range of views and backgrounds. IPSO also engaged with publishers when developing the guidance. 

The guidance does not supersede the Editors’ Code or create new obligations on journalists, but it does highlight key clauses of the Code, including Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination), which need to be carefully considered. In highlighting requirements for accuracy, it asks journalists to think about ensuring factually accurate pieces by contextualising and reporting on a range of differences within British Muslim communities, so that they are not characterised as a mono-clonal set of communities. 

I believe demonstrating pluralism is an antidote to the stereotyping and pigeon-holing of communities. The guidance addresses pluralism around British Muslim communities by making clear that “Muslims are not wholly defined, motivated or informed by their faith – there are many other aspects of their identity”. Whilst this seems a common sense statement that hardly needs to be said, the reality is that it needs to be repeated, where time constraints, informational overloads and rapidly moving global issues may possibly reduce nuance. 

The guidance promotes contextualisation and reflection but does not take away from reporting facts; I believe it promotes better journalism by supporting journalists to write about this important topic accurately, and reducing chances for readers to be led into stereotypes about communities. 

Another key element of the guidance is for journalists to ensure that they do not make pejorative or prejudicial remarks about an individual on the basis of their religion and for references to the faith of people to only be made if relevant to the story. Again, whilst this seems to be straightforward, to me, there have in the past been examples of transgressions on this most basic of issues. 

Lastly, I know many within British Muslim communities have been affected by stock images of Niqab-wearing women attached to articles around the actions of an individual self-identifying as a Muslim. The IPSO guidance picks up on this issue and states that, “images powerfully convey the meaning of a piece and the Code requires journalists to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted images.” 

The IPSO guidance does not infringe on the reporting of issues related to Islam or British Muslims. What it does is to get journalists to reflect on accuracy in reporting and ensuring that discriminatory tropes are not re-enforced. These are basic premises that we can all agree on. 

Fiyaz Mughal is the Founder of Faith Matters and its Director from 2005-2020. He was also the Founder of Tell MAMA, which monitors anti-Muslim hate incidents and supports victims of it. As with all guest blogs, the opinions are those of the author.


Originally published 9 November 2020.