London, Asharq Al-Awsat– At a time when British Muslims and Islam are under unprecedented scrutiny, The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) organized a one-day seminar entitled “British Muslim- Engaging with the Media” last Saturday, featuring speeches by prominent media professionals and academics, such as Graham Dudman, managing editor of the popular tabloid The Sun.
A number of participants who objected to his paper’s anti-Islamic agenda criticized Dudman. After most of the audience admitted they did not read the UK’s best selling paper, Dudman said The Sun was not against Muslims but against terrorists and those who preached hatred.
The political editor of the Daily Mirror, also a tabloid, indicated that journalists needed to clarify the nature of their work and how it was carried out so members of the public did not make their own erroneous conclusions.
Professor Greg Philo, of the University of Glasgow’s Media Unit and author of “Bad news from Israel”, spoke of the public’s limited knowledge of the Arab- Israeli conflict and the latest developments in the region.
The list of speakers included editors from the Independent, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers and reporters from the BBC.
The discussion between members of the audience and the speakers pointed to a general resentment of the western media amongst some Muslims. Journalists from the BBC explained the corporation’s editorial policies and indicated it seldom used the word terrorist in its programs and referred to Palestinian land as “the Occupied Territories”.
Prof. Philo added that it was crucial to clarify who the occupier was since a survey conducted by the Media Unit had showed that many wrongly assumed the land was Israeli and subsequently occupied by Palestinians when, in fact, it was the complete opposite. “Journalists need to mention this was Palestinian territory occupied by Israeli since 1967 and remind the readers that is an international position free from bias.”
Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the MCB, dedicated most of his opening speech to the reactions he had received following his dispute with the “Panorama” program. The MCB believes the episode broadcast on two weeks ago on the BBC was “deeply unfair” and constituted “a witch-hunt”.
Scaranie said the organization had received a flow of letters of support from Muslims across the UK and a number of non-Muslims. He added the attack in “Panorama has achieved for [the MCB] what would have taken four of five years to achieve” in terms of media coverage and backing.
Speaking to Asharq al Awsat, the secretary general said the MCB was not involved in any shape of form in the July 7 attacks in London and could not be blamed for the increasing focus on the Muslim community around the country. “Suspicions that the media is biased against Muslims preceded the bombings and even the September, 11 attacks.”
Scaranie blamed both sides for the lack of fair and objective reporting. Media professionals, he complained, “were not doing their job properly a lot of the time either because they lack the urge to conduct additional research or because of lack of time.”
As for Muslims living in Britain , the secretary general decried their lack of effort “to teach others of the tolerant teachings of Islam or taken time to speak to members of the press.” He added, “Problems emerge when media professionals only know part of the truth.”
For his part, Toro Takagi, a new producer in Japan’s NHK station (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), told Asharq al Awsat the public in his country where interested in other cultures and extensive research was carried out before documentaries on Islam, Muslims, and terrorism are made.
Foreign religious and social personalities also attended the seminar, including Mohammad Amin Moussa, from the Islamic Center of Singapore heading a delegation visiting a number of Muslims communities worldwide who wanted to learn from the MCB’s experiences.
It is worth mentioning the Muslim Council of Britain is an umbrella organization of about 400 mosques and other Islamic groups representing all sects was founded seven years ago.