Two thirds of newspaper stories in the UK portray British Muslims since 2000 as `a threat` or `problem,` according to new research.
A forty-page report, entitled Images of Islam in the UK, showed that the press in the UK increasingly utilize negative and stereotypical imagery about Muslims.
The authors, the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, found that British tabloids and broadsheets sought to engage with the “routine, everyday coverage of British Muslims” over and above the coverage which occurred around key events.
Coverage of British Muslims was also shown to have increased significantly year on year, and by 2006 had reached a level twelve times higher than that in 2000.
The authors describe how such a coverage generated a momentum all of its own, “lasting well beyond and independent of” newsworthy events.
At the same time, the report found that the context in which British Muslims were portrayed was of a consistently negative nature.
The main focus for a third of stories on British Muslims was either terrorism or the ‘war on terror.’
Eleven per cent of all stories focused on Muslim extremism, while in stark contrast, only 5 per cent covered “attacks on or problems for British Muslims.”
The notion of Islamophobia was said to have “scarcely featured as a news topic” in 2001 and 2005.
A significant yet subtle shift in stories involved a steady increase in the proportion which focus on religious and cultural differences, to such a degree that by 2008 these stories had overtaken terrorism as the single largest subject matter.
It was argued that this change in focus reflects the shift in British government policy, under the cloak of its “community cohesion”
framework, which quietly insinuates that ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ are mutually exclusive identities.
The consequence was that coverage about anti-Muslim racism and attacks on British Muslims has vastly reduced from 10 per cent in 2000 to only 1 per cent in 2008.
In comparison with four of the five most common story threads associating Islam and Muslims “with threats, problems or in opposition to dominant British values,” only 2 per cent suggested “that Muslims supported dominant moral values.”
In particular, the report highlighted a number of articles which frame Britain as “becoming a place of Muslim-only, ‘no-go’ areas, where churches were being replaced by mosques, and Sharia law would soon be implemented.”
The perception of Islam as a threat or a problem was further enhanced by the choice of descriptive language in the articles surveyed.
The most common nouns employed in relation to Islam or Muslims were ‘terrorist’ or ‘extremist’ whilst the most widely used adjectives included ‘fanatical’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘radical’ and ‘militant.’
Overall, “references to radical Muslims outnumber references to moderate Muslims by 17 to one” and was consistently used by both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. –IRNA