Misrepresentative portrayals of Muslims and other minorities will not stop unless newspapers are threatened with sanctions, Mehdi Hasan said yesterday.
The columnist and political director of the Huffington Post UK said the press has proven “singularly unable or unwilling to change the discourse, the tone or the approach” towards Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers.
Hasan, who was speaking in a personal capacity at a media industry event hosted by Mindshare UK, said: “We’re not going to get change unless there is some sanction, there is some penalty. This is not just about Muslims; it is about all minorities.”
“Therefore you have to ask questions about: does it need to be externally imposed, either by better regulation or via some form of commercial imperative? Though, that requires a separate campaign to get companies to give a damn about this stuff,” Hasan added.
He suggested advertisers would have boycotted newspapers over the publication of certain headlines about Muslims, had they been about other minorities.
In a session titled “The Muslims are coming!”, Hasan presented to a group of media industry figures a slideshow of British newspaper headlines and front pages, which he said ostracised the Muslim community, presenting Muslims as “the other”. Hasan also highlighted the factual inaccuracy of some of the stories and accused newspapers of peddling misinformation.
He said the practice was not just morally wrong, but also “dangerous and counter-productive […] because it increases alienation, […] and it also confirms the extremist narrative, the Islamist narrative that there is some kind of inevitable clash between the West and all of the Muslims living in the West, that there can never be any kind of reconciliation, that there is always going to be some kind of war between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
He added: “To pretend that all this negative, mad, crazy, over the top, dishonest, demonising press coverage is justified is wrong. To pretend that it has no impact on a minority community living in the UK or on our multicultural society, on relations between communities is naive, if not disingenuous.”
In addition to commercial pressure from advertisers and stricter press regulation, Hasan said a drive for greater diversity in the industry was essential to changing culture: “If you’re a Daily Express journalist writing some sort of anti-Muslim headline and the guy sitting opposite you is a Muslim it makes it much more difficult I would imagine.”
Finally, Hasan called for “similar sized apologies for similar sized nonsense headlines”. He told the Guardian he is a proponent of front page apologies for incorrect front page stories.
Hasan is a prominent critic of Islamophobia. In 2008, while working at Channel 4, he commissioned and produced an episode of Dispatches on the danger of Islamophobia titled, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim. He has also written regularly about the issue of Muslims’ portrayal in the media.