British Muslims are generally represented in a negative context in the mainstream media, contributing to “populist, essentialised images of Muslims and Islam” (Ahmed 2006:963). This media discourse is seen to increasingly reflect the wider discursive and significantly contested debate about nation, identity, and culture, and the playing out of differing interpretations and assertions of ‘Britishness’ across different social and political groups in the UK (Poole 2012). But if ‘democratic’ news coverage is ‘attempting’ to be pluralist and debate a variety of contested views, why does it remain overwhelmingly negative towards British Muslims? This paper presents some preliminary qualitative findings that tie together the analysis of how mainstream print media professionals explain and understand their reporting on British Muslims with the underlying ideologies and values of a democratic media. In line with other academic work focused on the relationship between media and democracy, I consider how different interpretations of the ‘democratic role’ of the media in society (liberal-pluralist, deliberative, and agonistic) place different normative obligations on the mainstream media. By juxtaposing these normative assumptions against empirical literature on the representation of Muslims, I build up a hypothesis of why the mainstream media will generally fail to present unbiased media coverage of British Muslims at moments when their very identity is being politically and socially contested. Building up a more radical normative understanding of a ‘democratic’ media can provide a clearer picture of how we can publicly discuss politically contested topics without resorting to the marginalisation of a particular group.
Media, Representation, Ideologies, Journalism, Identities, Power
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
PhD candidate/researcher, SPAIS, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
I am a third year PhD researcher based in SPAIS (the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies) at the University of Bristol (United Kingdom). Before embarking on my PhD, I worked as a journalist in the Middle East for ten years. Prior to this, I worked for several years in political communications at Westminster.