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Anti-Muslim trend: Media misrepresentation sparks rise in Islamophobia

An increase in reported Islamophobic incidents show a correlation between online media coverage and in-person attacks, studies by the Islamophobia Register Australia (IRA) reveal.

The report by Dr Derya Iner from Charles Sturt University, published in March, analyses 247 incidents of islamophobia reported to the IRA, both in person and online.

Mariam Veiszadeh, IRA founder and CEO of Media Diversity Australia, said anti-Muslim rhetoric was a growing problem.

“Over the course of the three reports we have produced, we found a trend that increasingly the victims are women and largely the perpetrators are men,” she said.

In an earlier report on 2014-15, Muslims being viewed as terrorists and killers by the public was recorded as 12 per cent. In the latest report – for 2018-19 – this number reached 40 per cent.

Anti-Muslim trend: Media misrepresentation sparks rise in Islamophobia

Negative media coverage is dangerous to Muslims. Picture by Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

The report says that the spike shows that the portrayal of Muslims as terrorists is linked to the increasing influence of the far-right, which demonises Muslims.

“In the first report we had a section dedicated to media coverage, specifically what politicians were peddling in the media,” Veiszadeh said.

The impact of politicians publicly speaking out against Muslims can be seen in statements made by the former Casey mayor Sam Aziz and far-right former senator Fraser Anning, who both blamed Muslims for the Christchurch mosque murders.

Islamic Council Victoria vice-president Adel Salman said “blatant” racism inflamed the situation.

The Coalition has been guilty of blatant Islamophobia and racist policies to immigrants, Muslims and refugees.

“The MPs would say things that are discriminatory and inflammatory,” he said.

This increase in Islamophobia showed in media coverage that regularly featured headlines correlating terrorism and Islam, demonstrated in the Australian Human Rights Commission report, Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims.

Mobinah Ahmed, co-founder and managing editor of Australian Muslim Times (AMUST), said the media landscape was closely connected to attitudes to Islam in the last 10 years.

“Whenever there was some sort of a terror attack on the front page you would see something scathing or derogatory about Muslims,” she said.

Anti-Muslim trend: Media misrepresentation sparks rise in Islamophobia

Salman said there were times when “Muslims would have to line to up to condemn terrorist attacks”.

“I would get calls as the media representative from journalists asking me to comment on something that happened overseas,” he said.

Mainstream media had recently shifted to demonstrate more responsible and positive reporting on Islamic topics. “We have seen an improvement no doubt and some of that has been driven by Muslims educating journalists on Muslim issues,” he said.

Ahmed said the the news “was not always negative, but it is manipulative”.

“In my experience working in the media, sometimes I’ll ask, ‘what’s your angle?’ it is very important to establish this so that you can negotiate what is published about you,” she said.

Based on the recent IRA reports, Islamophobia is on the rise. In response, members of the Muslim community are creating safe spaces for victims and also attempting to share the community’s narrative.

Salman says: “We offer islamophobia services because we know islamophobia is real, whether it is hijabi sisters or people in the workforce. It is in institutions and schools, and it has a real impact.”

Veiszadeh started the IRA in 2014 for the same reason and it all began with a logo and a Facebook page that she created one afternoon.

I noticed that there was an anecdotal increase of Islamophobic incidents, even among my own circle of friends.

“I decided it needed to be reported in a structured way, and why not me be the person who does it,” she said.  

Ahmed is also advocating for more Muslim journalists to enter media spaces. She uses her platform AMUST to give them experience.

“We’re not competing with groups like ABC and SBS. In fact we want Muslims to join those companies and also share some of their stories with AMUST,” she said.

Ahmed created AMUST alongside her father as a way to share stories from the perspective of the Muslim community.

“We saw that there was a gap in the market, there weren’t any positive stories about Muslims in the news,” she said.

Salman said there was a need for positive stories. “Muslims are a large minority in Australia. We are smart and successful – we should be able to advocate for change.”

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