Canada Calling – Canadian Media Still Biased Against Muslims
By Faisal Kutty – The (CIC) released in September the results of a year-long study of the Canadian media’s treatment of Islam and Muslims. “Overall, there has been a 17 percent improvement in minimizing anti-Islam coverage in the Canadian media from last year, but we still have a long way to go,” said Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Elmasry, president of the Congress.
The study, evaluating the editorial content of seven Canadian newspapers, ranked the publications (from best to worst) as follows: The National Post, The Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette and La Presse.
According to Elmasry the Toronto Sun was not included in the final ranking because its lack of international coverage would have skewed the results. “The newspapers were graded according to the frequency, placement and presentation of discriminatory images and phrases including ‘Muslim terrorists’ and ‘Muslim militants,’” said Elmasry.
Speaking about the findings, Dr. John Miller, a professor of journalism at Ryerson University, said that the media continue to perpetuate stereotypes of Muslims as violent, fanatical and anti-women’s rights. “Like any stereotype, it gets ingrained in news judgment,” he said.
Dr. Miller’s conclusion has been confirmed in numerous other studies. For instance, in a study titled “The Usual Suspects,” published in the spring 1998 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, the most respected media review publication in Canada, Andre Mayer found that there is a tendency to rush to judgment when it comes to Islam and Muslims.
In fact, often, one need not even get past the headlines to see the blatant stereotyping. Headlines such as “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” “The Muslims are Coming, The Muslims are Coming,” “Violence, the Islamic Curse,” and “Bombs in the Name of Allah,” some of these accompanied by derogatory images, undeniably leave a lasting impression. The stereotyping also fuels the rising hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims.
The concern over unfair media coverage is not limited to Muslims. Other minority groups also have been complaining about negative coverage. In fact, it is interesting to note that the racial background—or when it comes to Muslims, the religious background—is highlighted in negative coverage but not in positive stories.
“Like any stereotype, it gets ingrained in news judgment.”
Experts point out a number of ways to address the problem. In his book, Islam, Muslims & Media, Dr. Mohammad A. Siddiqi, professor of journalism at Western Illinois University, writes that there should be minimal, if any, references to religious labels.
I would add that there should be minimal references to racial and ethnic labels—unless it is central to the story. In fact, a study of three major U.S. newspapers released a few years ago by the Muslim Public Affairs Council found that religious labels were used 50 percent of the time for stories involving Muslims, 10 percent of the time for Jews and very rarely for Christians. Editors and journalists must ask, why is this necessary?
Interestingly, from the mainstream press only the Toronto Star showed up at the CIC press conference held to announce the study results. To its credit, the Star wrote an excellent report despite being ranked the worst offender in last year’s study, which was extensively covered in all the media. The Star was the most improved newspaper this year, and finished third.
Canadian Coalition Holds Rally and Prayer to Bring Attention to Plight of Innocent Children and Elderly in Iraq
A coalition of Canadian organizations gathered at Queen’s Park—the Ontario Provincial Legislature—on Oct. 1 to call on Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy to push for the lifting of the crippling sanctions against Iraqi civilians. The main organizers of the event, which attracted about 400 people, were the Muslim Students’ Associations of York University, Ryerson University and the University of Toronto (St. George, Erindale and Scarborough campuses).
The event was co-sponsored or endorsed by Al-Shura Consultative Council (representing more than 40 local community groups); The Toronto and Region Islamic Congregation; The Islamic Center of Toronto; Islamic Institute of Toronto; Canadian Islamic Congress; Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association; The Progressive Muslim Network; and the Canadian Arab Federation.
The rally was part of a week-long protest against the impact of sanctions on innocent victims in Iraq organized by the New York-based International Action Center. The enter, founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, has been at the forefront in challenging the legality of the sanctions.
“We feel that the Canadian government should take the initiative in the Security Council to bring an end to the deplorable situation in Iraq,” said Jennifer Zaghloul, the lead coordinator of the protest. “Our acquiescence in the more than 1.5 million deaths caused by medical shortages and starvation is immoral and indefensible.”
“The policy of sanctions has clearly failed,” said John Asfour of the Canadian Arab Federation. “It has further devastated all aspects of Iraqi society,” Asfour added. “This is simply unacceptable.”
The rally ended with the first-ever Muslim congregational (Friday) prayer being held at the Ontario Legislature. Imam Shabbir Ally delivered a heart-wrenching sermon calling on all of humanity to follow the teachings of Jesus to come to the aid of one’s “neighbors” in their time of need.
Despite the massive publicity blitz, solid turnout (on a working day) and the endorsement by most of the major organizations representing the city’s estimated 300,000 Muslims, the event was totally ignored by the mainstream media.
Canadian Islamic Congress Hosts First Annual Reception at Parliament Hill
About 100 people attended the first annual Canadian Islamic Congress reception and dinner at Parliament Hill on Oct. 18. Invitees got the opportunity to meet a number of parliamentarians, including Revenue Minister Herb Dhaliwal and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Eleanor Kaplan.
The national president of the Congress, Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, delivered the welcoming address and expressed his hope that this would be an annual tradition. He spoke of the need for Muslims to become involved in Canadian society for the betterment not only of the community but of Canada as a nation. The professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo also touched upon the community’s important role in developing and maintaining relations between Canada and the Muslim world. In fact, he pointed out, the Muslim world as a group ranked as the third largest trading partner with Canada.
Minister Kaplan spoke to the gathering about the immigrant makeup of Canada and the importance of strengthening ties with the Muslim world.
As an added bonus, guests were treated to an unscheduled address by Sen. Marcel Prudhomme. The strong supporter of the Palestinian cause wished the organization success and spoke about the experiences of other minority groups that can serve as a model for the Congress.
A number of members from the Ottawa diplomatic corps and their spouses were also in attendance. Included in this contingent were the ambassadors from Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, Brunei, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea.
Dr. Mohamed Al-Hussaini from Saudi Arabia spoke about the commonalities between the three Abrahamic faiths. He spoke of the need for all three faiths to work toward attaining true tolerance and understanding. The program ended with closing remarks from Wahida Valiante, the national vice president of the Congress.
For more information on the Canadian Islamic Congress, contact 420 Erb Street West, Suite 424, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 6K6, tel. (519) 746-1242, fax (519) 746-2929, e-mail: email@example.com, URL: http://www.cicnow.com
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and international affairs columnist for iViews.com.
Note: First Published: DECEMBER 1999, pages 47, 135
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