Portrayal of Muslims 'tainted by racism'

Date: March 18 2006

By Ian Munro

THE Australian media's coverage of Muslims and Arabs is tainted with a racism that portrays them as "tricky, sleazy, sexual and untrustworthy", according to one of the country's most experienced journalists.

Muslims are portrayed as uniformly violent, oppressors of women, and members of a global conspiracy opposed to Australian values, said Peter Manning, former head of ABC News, now Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Sydney's University of Technology. He said that the words "Arab" or "Muslim" were associated with terrorism in 89 per cent of articles that appeared in Sydney's two major newspapers in the year after September 11, 2001.

He did not confine his criticism to the media, however, adding that it was time politicians stopped "stoking up the embers of racist hatred".

"As a nation I think we are awash with misunderstanding about Islam. It is not helped by politicians playing party games in this sea of confusion and ignorance," Professor Manning said at the launch of a media guide — Islam and Muslims in Australia — prepared by the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria and financed by the Federal Government.

The council's manager, Joumanah El Matrah, said the impetus for creating the guide was the Muslim community's concern at their negative representation in the media. But she said it also recognised that it was difficult for journalists as outsiders to identify representative spokesmen for the community. "At the moment, the vast majority of Australians see Muslims with a propensity towards extremism, towards isolation, with an unwillingness to integrate," Ms El Matrah said.

Parliamentary secretary on immigration Andrew Robb commended the council on a step towards helping dialogue between Muslims and the media.