Report: Mainstream media coverage of terrorism is biased against Muslims

Media freedoms are under attack

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring has found that mainstream media coverage of terrorism differs according to whom the perpetrator is – with terrorism more likely to be associated with Muslims and Islam than with far-right activists or white supremacists. 

In a new report “How The British Media Reports Terrorism” the CfMM found that the terms “terrorist,” “terrorism” or “terror” were used with the terms “Islam” or “Muslim” almost nine times more than when the perpetrator was identified with the terms “far-right,” “neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist.”

CfMM analysed over 230,000 articles published in 31 national online media outlets to show the inconsistencies in the coverage of terrorist attacks, depending on the background of the perpetrator.

Other key insights include:

  • Statistical comparison of terror attacks in the last 18 months show a reluctance to label white supremacist attacks as “terrorist attacks” compared with their so-called Muslim counterparts (in particular in right-leaning print media).
  • Mainstream presenters and reporters across terrestrial channels often failed to challenge pro-white supremacist and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the coverage of the Christchurch attacks.
  • Online news sites, in particular, the Mail Online, have appropriated the phrase “Allahu Akbar” in headlines as shorthand for terrorism committed by individuals of a Muslim background.
  • Significant improvements have been made in the past year, with greater recognition of white supremacist terror, mainly as a result of major attacks in Christchurch and El Paso.
  • BBC, ITV and Sky have all explored the issue of “white supremacist” terrorism with much greater rigour in their live reporting with some outstanding recent examples.

Rizwana Hamid, Director of the Centre for Media Monitoring, said: “Whilst there now appears to be a recognition of the importance of consistency and the scale of the far-right threat amongst the broadcasters, and most of the press, there is still a long way to go.

“Inconsistencies remain, with a disproportionate focus on Muslims. Worst of all, headlines using religious terms such as ‘Allahu Akbar’ imply that religion is always the motivator, ignoring other factors such as criminal history and mental health issues which may be at play, and which are often mentioned when the perpetrator is not Muslim.

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“However, in our interaction with editorial directors, managing editors, security correspondents and senior producers, there has generally been a willingness to reflect, and we hope our recommendations help improve standards for us all.”

The report makes a number of recommendations for UK media outlets, including to:

  • Adopt a transparent and public definition of terrorism that is consistently applied, if and only if the relevant facts are established.
  • Avoid uncorroborated witness statements given their inherent unreliability.
  • Avoid spurious links between terrorism and normative Islamic practices i.e. an individual going to a mosque should not implicate the mosque in the crimes of the individual.
  • Avoid headlining with the term “Allahu Akbar” as shorthand for motive.
  • Avoid platforming far-right and white supremacist voices, except in those circumstances where their views are contextualised and can be sufficiently challenged.

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