Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald
By Alexandra Fitzpatrick | @poppy_fitz
A Muslim researcher at UniSA says mainstream media coverage of Islam should be held accountable for making events like the Christchurch massacre “inevitable”.
UniSA Research Fellow at the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, Dylan Chown, said although the gravity of the incident was hard to process, the attack was foreseeable given the image of Islam the media portrays.
“Language leads discourse, discourse shapes public opinion, and that creates this dominant narrative, which marginalises and damages identities of this non-privileged voice of Muslim people within Australia,” Mr Chown said.
“It’s an exhausting, fatiguing effort to push back against that narrative.”
After a terrorist attack on two mosques killed 51 people in Christchurch, news media outlets were pressed again to reflect on the strength of their influence in shaping public opinion.
OnePath Network published a report earlier this year which studied five News Corp newspapers in 2017, finding that 2891 of their stories on Islam contained negative language.
This amounts to more than eight negative articles about Islam published per day.
The report also found that 152 front pages of the five Murdoch newspapers referred to Islam with negative language in 2017.
“It’s not a surprise, nor is it a shock to the Muslim community. It’s something that has been of great concern for some time,” Mr Chown said.
“It’s something that we, as a community collectively, we’ve warned, we’ve cautioned.”
Some on Twitter also questioned Australian media outlets on their reporting of the incident.
One user tweeted: “That Australian terrorist killed 49 Muslim brothers and still “media” is calling him a “shooter” not terrorist because he is not a Muslim. Terrorism has no Religion, no colour and no country.”
Mr Chown said the broader debate surrounding the terrorist attack can make the loss of human life appear somewhat secondary, due to the language that persists in political discussion and reporting.
This discourse is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back many years within Australian politics and media.
For Turkish-born Australian citizen Ghani Gecmez, this language and public representation of Islam has been a constant battle since moving to Australia in 1999.
Mr Gecmez said the media plays a significant part in the way the Muslim community is perceived in Australian society.
“What you see, what you read, all of a sudden you take it in,” Mr Gecmez said.
He also said that until people are informed, they will continue to be ignorant.
“If you are educated about other cultures, traditions, religions, media will not affect it [your opinion],” he said.
Dylan Chown described the effort to change public opinion as a “wicked challenge”, but believes education will play an essential role in reshaping Australia’s discourse, not only surrounding Islam but other religions and cultures as well.
“A dear colleague of mine, Aboriginal Educator of the Year Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney said so powerfully, ‘As educators, we build nations and we build them from the classroom’.” Mr Chown said.
“So, we have to start asking ourselves: what type of a nation do we see ourselves as?”.