It is perhaps fair to say that the British media and Muslims don’t exactly see eye to eye. There is a disproportionate focus on Muslims living in Britain, and we are regularly treated to sensationalist reporting concerning Muslims, from ‘sting operations’ courtesy of Panorama and Dispatches to the clear bullying by certain individuals in print journalism. Whilst the journalists in question are merely exercising their right to free press, much of their work ends up becoming fodder for Islamophobes, who use their articles and news reports as a catalyst to whip up fear against Muslims on social media.
The story of Cathy Newman apparently being ‘ushered’ out of South London Islamic Centre highlights this particular problem. Newman, who was reporting on the recent #visitmymosque initiative was supposed to visit the Hyderi centre in Streatham, but accidentally ended up at South London Islamic Centre, a 15 minute walk away from where she intended to go. CCTV footage shows Newman entering the mosque at the time of prayer, and upon entering, one of the worshippers speaks to Newman who appears to be somewhat lost and points her to the nearby church, where he thought she wished to go. Newman then leaves the mosque, unaccompanied.
However, Newman decided to create a storm by tweeting that she had been ushered out of the mosque, despite being ‘dressed appropriately’. Major news outlets then pounced as the lure for yet another negative Muslim story overcame them, and in rushing to get their articles out they overlooked the small point of ascertaining the facts. In fact, they made their own additions to the story, as some suggested Newman was forcefully made to leave as the mosque is only for men. The mosque did try to give their side of the story when Nick Ferrari decided to discuss the issue on LBC, but it seemed that Ferrari wasn’t prepared to believe their side of the story, as of course Muslims are always guilty until proven innocent. Perhaps they’re eating their words now.
However, what is of greater concern is that as a result of Newman’s irresponsible tweeting, the mosque was subjected to hate voicemail messages, and members of the mosque committee received death threats. Yet again, Islamophobes have used Newman’s confabulation and subsequent media storm to further legitimise their hatred against Muslims. It was at this point that Newman decided to apologise for the ‘misunderstanding’. However, this wasn’t just a misunderstanding, it was a barefaced lie by the journalist.
In this particular instance CCTV footage made public exposed Newman, leaving her in a somewhat embarrassing state. But one cannot help but ask; if it is this easy for a journalist to lie for the sake of creating a story, what of all the other sensationalist stories we have seen against Muslims? How many of those are really true, and how many of those are mere concoctions in the heads of journalists? Perhaps this is a sign to the wider public that we ought to take the testimony of journalists with a pinch of salt, especially when it comes to Muslims.
However, the take home message from this incident is that journalists mustn’t forget the huge responsibility they have towards the public for accurate reporting, and the dangers of going down the murky path of sensationalism. At a time when community relations are being strained in Britain, they should try to use their influence to bring society together, as opposed to further widening the divisions.