I will never forget this conversation.
An award-winning writer was working for a top American newspaper.
She asked me why Muslims do not respond to media coverage.
She said that each time she wrote a positive story about Muslims, her paper received hundreds of emails, letters, and calls in protest while receiving hardly any appreciation. Her bosses did not like that, and it was counted against her.
She was eventually let go from that publication.
Another award-winning journalist, working in another newspaper, told me the same and was also eventually asked to leave the publication.
Muslims, like all Americans, love to hate the media.
Americans’ trust in mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to 32%, the lowest in Gallup polling history.
But the media’s work has real consequences for Muslims.
According to the last survey available, the approval rating of Muslims stands at 17%. When the survey asked Americans why they have a low opinion of Muslims, they pointed to the media.
The media has allowed Islamophobia to go mainstream.
Americans do not trust the media but television, radio and newspapers (print and online) are still major sources of news, with 57% saying that television is their main source of news.
So, if you are worried about the bullying of Muslim children increasing by 660%, and 20% of bullies being teachers, you need to look no further than the media.
The media can play a positive role. After 9/11, the approval rating of Muslims went up as high as 59% as the media made a serious effort to be positive about Islam and Muslims.
This can happen again, but will require work.
It will require us to try and influence the media by developing relationship with the human beings working in the media.
But do not delegate this to some organisation.
Organisations will do their work but the media is too massive and too omnipresent to be a task delegated to a couple of staffers or even volunteers.
Each Muslim needs to take personal charge of this work, and each Masjid needs to focus on at least one media outlet.
The Media connection
As an individual: 1. Can you or your family adopt one media outlet? 2. Whenever you are watching a television channel, keep an eye on their representations of Muslims, civil rights issues and climate issues 3. Whether the content is good or bad, make a note of it with the date, time and name of the producer of reporter 4. Send them appreciative messages about what you like, and dislike 5. Twitter is the best way to connect with them, although good old letters to the editor are still very influential 6. Try to understand their personal likes and dislikes through their Facebook newsfeed 7. Personalise your communication to specific individuals instead of addressing the company in general 8. Pitch an idea: do not just be reactive, suggest ideas! LinkedIn is very useful since you can search media professionals and develop a feel about the stories they might be working on already 9. Please keep a detail record of your communications, which will be helpful in the future.
As a Masjid or Islamic Centre: 1. Get your Masjid or your Organisation to write formally to the media 2. Organise a meeting between key members of your Islamic Center and the Editorial Board of that media organisation 3. Your website should list your spokesperson or media contact 4. Organise a media workshop at your Masjid.
Remember that the media is made up of humans, and relationships matter a great deal. You can influence them. Reporters appreciate it when you get to know who they are and what they care about.
I am aware of several success stories when individual Muslims have been able to win over the heart and mind of human beings in media.
However, patience is the key. Change will not happen overnight. Relationships take time.
The consequences of bad media coverage for Muslims are high.
Do not expect some other organisation to handle media relations for you.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is a non-profit entrepreneur and President of Sound Vision. He is currently Chair, Board of the Parliament of World’s Religions and is based in Chicago USA. He also chairs Burma Task Force USA raising awareness of ongoing genocide and persecution of Muslims in Burma.
The above article appeared in Australian Muslim Times of Sydney and reproduced here with the permission of Zia Ahmad, its Managing Editor. The picture below is courtesy of www.soundvision.com