IPSO Blog: Religion and the media

Press coverage of religion and faith can be a challenging issue but IPSO is continuing to engage with readers and those interested in how journalists report these stories as it helps us understand the key issues.

Last Tuesday, I spent an enjoyable evening at London Central Mosque, along with Bianca Strohmann, IPSO’s Head of Complaints, Hashi Mohamed, Barrister and Journalist, and Ayaz Zuberi, Head of Public Relations, London Central Mosque. The event gave members of the local community the opportunity to discuss concerns and perceptions about the coverage of Islam in the media.

The event was an excellent opportunity to hear the perspective from members of the public, outside of the circle of those who usually participate in debates about press standards.

Some attendees were concerned that all coverage of Islam and Muslims in the UK media was negative, and overwhelmingly focussed on the links between Islam and terrorism. However, this was challenged both by research by speakers presented at the event, which showed that coverage of Islam is not overwhelmingly negative, and by examples given of engagement with the media which had resulted in more positive coverage.

The opening remarks by the Director General of the Mosque reflected on the huge variety of news and information sources available nowadays, which vary in quality, voice and accuracy. He highlighted the difficulties this created for individuals trying to find reputable sources of information on items in the news or under public discussion.

These comments lead me to reflect on conversations I have had with journalists. Journalists have spoken of their difficulties in trying to find media-trained individuals who are willing and able to speak on behalf of a particular religion, or branch of that religion.

Journalists are, often under time pressure, looking for a snappy quote which can be easily woven into their story. The concept of a ‘community leader’ is one that is more relevant to some groups than others and, as a result, makes it more difficult for journalists to find appropriate commentators.

On Thursday, Charlotte Dewar, Director of Operations, and I met a representative of the Network of Sikh Organisations, to discuss the coverage of Sikhism in the media. As with the community event, we had a broad and lively discussion of a range of issues.

We discussed how Sikh organisations could work with the media and, in particular, how Sikh organisations could engage with local newspapers to encourage coverage of Sikh issues relevant to the local community.

IPSO will take forward work on supporting journalists to comply with the Code when covering religious issues later this year. I believe that IPSO, working with interested parties, can support journalists and make a positive contribution to accurate and informed coverage of religious issues.