Some 91 per cent of UK press articles about Muslims are ‘negative”, according to a £30,000 report commissioned by London mayor Ken Livingstone.
The Search for Common Ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK Media found that in one week chosen at random in May 2006, of the 352 articles that mentioned Islam 91 per cent ‘were judged to be negative in their associations”.
The report found that many news stories were ‘frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist or abusive’to Muslims. It recommended that news organisations set up codes of conduct relating to Islamic terminology.
In one example, from October 2005, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and later the Daily Express wrote stories of how high street bank NatWest had banned piggy banks because they could upset ethnic customers.
The report stated the bank later said it had taken down promotional posters for piggy banks simply because the promotion had ended.
Guardian journalist Hugh Muir and former Evening Standard and Guardian reporter Laura Smith interviewed six Muslim journalists for the report and asked them whether they were treated differently and whether their newspapers’ coverage of Muslims was fair.
The journalists complained of being ‘pushed into a cul-de-sac of writing about minority issues’and at least two were asked to infiltrate al-Qaeda.
The report does, however, admit that newspaper coverage in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 atrocities was ‘exemplary”. It praised The Sun for a two-page editorial headlined ‘Islam is not an evil religion”, published shortly after 2005’s London bombings.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: ‘Very many papers, local and national, work very, very hard to improve community relations.
‘It’s unrealistic to take one week and make the sweeping conclusions that were drawn.”