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NUJ endorses new media guidelines for reporting on Muslims and Islam

5 November 2019

A major new report with media guidelines for reporting on Muslims and Islam has been published in Scotland and endorsed by the NUJ.

The document has been produced by the Scottish parliament’s cross-party group (CPG) on tackling Islamophobia in conjunction with Newcastle University and the NUJ.

Research for the project involved focus groups with young Muslims, Muslim women, individuals and organisations who belong to the CPG, non-Muslims, and senior journalists from print and broadcast media.

Participants said 'headlines hurt' and questioned why there aren’t more positive stories about Muslims in the media, while the report found that terminology is often used without much regard for accuracy - such as the terms 'hijab' and 'burka' being used interchangeably - and articles sometimes reference an individual's Muslim faith when it isn’t clear why it is relevant to the story.

The main aim in producing the guidelines is to improve the portrayal, accuracy, representation and terminology used about Islam and Muslims.

The report has been authored by Uzma Mir, a former BBC Scotland executive producer, and Peter Hopkins, professor of social geography at Newcastle University. 

Download the full report.

Download the summary.

Anas Sarwar MSP, chair of the cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, said:

"Rightly or wrongly, people blame politicians and the media for rising divisions in society. The CPG set out to address these issues, and I would like to thank all the journalists and editors for their positive engagement with this ground-breaking initiative. These guidelines can demonstrate leadership from Scotland to the rest of the UK and other parts of the world. I hope this becomes a regularly used tool and acts as a quick guide for the media. By coming together to challenge all forms of prejudice we can build the tolerant and inclusive society we aspire to be. This is a fight for all of us."

The report's co-author Uzma Mir said:

"The media has significant power in shaping how Islam and Muslims are represented and therefore the extent to which Muslims experience everyday racism and Islamophobia. In most polls and from our own work with focus groups, many Muslims felt that that there was an issue with Islamophobia and that the media played a major part in its rise. We hope these guidelines encourage further change and are a useful tool for those working in different roles and in diverse forms of media in Scotland."

The report's co-author Professor Peter Hopkins of Newcastle University said:

"Our main aim in producing these guidelines is to improve the quality of press coverage about Islam and Muslims. We know from research that problematic media representations play a key role in fostering Islamophobia so we hope that this guidance will help to improve the portrayal, accuracy, representation and terminology used about Islam and Muslims, for the benefit of all. Journalists and programme-makers should strive to offer more regular coverage of the positive qualities, contributions and successes of the Muslim community rather than only focusing on the negative or more sensationalist stories. Accuracy is clearly the key to good practice in journalism. Is the description 'Muslim' relevant to the story? Would you be referencing the faith or ethnicity of any individual in the story if they were of a different faith or ethnicity? If not, then do not use it. Representation is another key recommendation. Muslims are largely invisible in Scottish newsrooms yet we know that diverse workplaces are better and more effective. The media must remember that Muslims are not a homogenous community. They are a diverse group, religiously, ethnically and culturally. Ensure your description and terminology is correct."

John Toner, national organiser for NUJ Scotland, said:

"What journalists write - and how they write it - matters. How journalists cover issues relating to Scotland’s diverse communities and faiths influence how we view our neighbours, and we are glad to be part of these guidelines which are an important step in making our media more representative, and our society more inclusive."

Tags: , ethics, media coverage, reporting, reporting guidelines, muslim, islamaphobia, race reporting