Thu 6 May 2021

Faisal Hanif argues that the media’s inbuilt prejudice against Muslims leads to a clamour for stories, no matter what the credibility of the source

As Muslim parents protested outside Batley Grammar School after a teacher showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad – one noticeable feature of the reporting has been the frequent updates concerning a petition allegedly set up by a group of students at the school.

From 10,000 to 20,000 signatures, and now more than 60,000, the petition in support of the teacher has been deemed important enough by the media to generate headlines. The “students” have demanded that “the burley Yorkshire lad” (as the Daily Mail and its associated Newspaper group have resorted to calling the teacher) be reinstated.

One noticeable omission from the reporting, however, is confirmation of whether the petition was in fact set up by students. Establishing this is the job of the reporter and is imperative given the ease with which anyone can set up an account and instigate campaigns. Yet, the claim has been reported as fact, and it seems no one has bothered to verify the identity of the petition-master.

In a similar incident, a paramedic who called himself ‘Tom’ alleged on Christo Foufas’ talkRADIO show that he had been denied entry to a Mosque to treat a heart attack patient because he was gay. ‘Tom’ further claimed that he had been threatened with beheadings on the streets of Oldham. This was a hook for the presenter to curate an exchange based on the trope that there are ‘no-go’ areas in Britain populated heavily by Muslims.

The caller, who claimed to be a 26-year-old veteran of the North West Ambulance Service, said that his piercings and blue Mohican gave away his sexual preferences and caught the ire of his detractors. The allegation was serious enough to make headlines in two national tabloids, yet it seems as though neither they and nor Foufas made an attempt to verify the source of the claims.

After being contacted by the Centre for Media Monitoring, the North West Ambulance service looked over two years worth of call logs and said that the incident, or any of the other allegations, did not happen and no such person fitting the description of ‘Tom’ had worked for them.

Yet, this was not enough to humble those behind the interview, with the radio presenter citing the context of alleged death threats towards the Batley school teacher as a valid reason for the caller to hide his identity. This was a part of the justification given by Foufas when he explained his reasoning for awarding 17 minutes of airtime to ‘Tom’. 

The power of anonymous information targeting Muslims was most infamously seen in the so-called Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham schools in 2014-2015. Accusations against Muslim teachers and governors via an anonymous letter led to an entire media and government campaign against them, which in turn ruined lives and careers.

The identity of the individual who made the accusations has to this day seemingly been left unchecked, even though the case against the teachers collapsed, with the integrity of the process called into disrepute.

Platforming the anonymous often seems to be an excuse to air spurious generalisations and tropes against individuals, families and communities – alleviating the author and the publication from the burden of proof.

Even the BBC, which prides itself on verifying information before publication, has hosted feature articles under pseudonyms where accusations against Muslims flow freely. One such example is the story of a woman leading a double life who accuses her grandfather of having “ruled the roost”, with Islamic sermons and prayers five times a day, and “older members of the community of living in the 8th Century, not the 21st.”

In 2018, the Independent’s opinion section published an article from an alleged survivor of Rotherham grooming gangs under the pseudonym of Ella Hill. One of the central claims of the piece was how religion was a motivating factor in the gang crimes, with groomers said to have quoted verses from the Qur’an whilst beating her. The individual behind the pseudonym has gone on to make claims of how over half a million non-Muslim girls have been raped by grooming gangs in the last 40 years on a “Hindu Supremacist website” – known to publish fake news and anti-Muslim conspiracies. She has also made the claim that rape victims of white perpetrators are ‘jealous’ of grooming gang victims. 

The comedian Andrew Doyle showed how easy it was to publish accusatory articles on the Independent’s comment site when he admitted to writing a hoax article under a pseudonym which slated the stand-up circuit as a hotbed of racism and sexism. Doyle stated that traditional media fabricates outrage to create an anti-woke backlash, and the same can be said of how it reports on Muslims and Islam. This goes to show that, if a particular publication or broadcaster wants something to be true, then it shall be so, even if the claim remains unproven or unverified.

This is particularly the case for reporting on Muslims, who are the subject of misinformation and even blatant fabrication. The narrative has been established that Muslims are a unique danger in British society. Therefore, sources of information who confirm this narrative often receive a platform without basic journalistic due diligence.

A report from the Columbia School of Journalism concluded that pseudonyms were inherently undesirable in journalism as they invite fiction. Given how British newspapers have an established record of concocting stories to demonise Muslims, it is justifiable to be highly sceptical of the use of pseudonym sources by individual journalists and publications. Information should always be presumed to be untrue until it’s verified.     

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