“The national corporate press weaponised Islamophobia as a tool for the Brexit campaign in a shameless and appalling way…attacking Muslims is what pays now.”
On the 4th April, MEND and Byline hosted a joint reception to launch MEND’s new publication ‘British Muslims: Facts & Figures’ at the Frontline Club in Paddington. The event entitled ‘Beyond Google: A definitive guide to British Muslims’ was attended by politicians, journalists, academics and Muslim representatives.
Prominent speaks included Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West and Shadow Minister of State for Women and Equalities; Peter Jukes and Stephen Colegrave, founders of the Byline Times; Brian Cathcart, professor at Kingston University; Dr Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust; and Aaqil Ahmed, award-winning television executive and professor of media at Bristol University.
The reception was hosted by Vaughn Smith, founder of the Frontline Club and chaired by Dr. Shazad Amin, CEO of MEND.
Dr. Amin opened the event by celebrating the valuable resource that MEND has produced. He stated that “the negative portrayal of Muslim communities in broadcast and published media poses a significant challenge to the active civic, social, economic, and political engagement of British Muslims. ‘British Muslims, Facts & Figures’ is a comprehensive resource which explores the history, achievements, and contributions of British Muslim communities, as well as the controversies and challenges that face them. It is hoped that this valuable work will assist in going some way to recalibrating the narratives and representations of Muslims within the public consciousness.”
In discussing the prevalence of negative representations of Muslims in the mainstream media, Professor Brian Cathcart noted that “the national corporate press weaponised Islamophobia as a tool for the Brexit campaign in a shameless and appalling way…attacking Muslims is what pays now, and they do it because they have an agenda driven from the top to spread fear.” He went to speak about his work and about the excellent work Hacked Off is doing, of which he is a co-founder. Hacked Off was established in 2011 in response to the phone-hacking revelations and campaigns for a free and accountable press.
Stephen Colegrave and Peter Jukes, founders of Byline spoke about their experience in challenging media publications and the establishment of Byline and the BylineTimes. Mr. Jukes said “weaponised fake news…people like Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon are actively trying to spread misinformation. There are rice men who make money out of division and hatred.”
Dr. Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust, discussed the evolution of Islamophobia over the past 25 years. In discussing IPSO’s inability to address group discrimination, he observed that “it’s perfectly okay to slander groups such as Muslim communities under the current regulation.” He further added that in approaching a definition of Islamophobia “Muslims understand what it means to be treated badly but wider society still has some way to go”.
Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West and Shadow Minister of State for Women and Equalities, spoke about being a Muslim woman in the media eye saying that she is “the most abused MP on Twitter.” And that “it is my absolute right to be treated with equality”. Ms. Shah also pointed towards the positive contributions of Muslims to Britain; “we [Muslims] are proud of our contribution to society”.
Aaqil Ahmed, award-winning media producer, said that the publication of ‘British Muslims: Facts & Figures’ is important “because there is a lack of knowledge that can create fear.” It is hoped that resources such as this may assist in dispelling the myths that perpetuate fear in society.
There will be similar events held across the country to launch ‘British Muslims: Facts & Figures’ which is an instrumental resource for journalists, policymakers, and education professionals.
MEND calls upon policymakers to commit to the full implementation of the Royal Charter on press regulation and commit to the commencement of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, including an investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the media.