Associate Professor Jacqui Ewart and Professor Mark Pearson from the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science answer key questions about their flagship Reporting Islam Project.
What is this project about?
The Reporting Islam Project is developing user-friendly and readily accessible resources underpinned by research-based evidence to help journalists adopt more mindful practices in stories about Islam and Muslims. It is believed that fair, ethical and accurate reporting on matters involving Islam and Muslim communities will help promote social cohesion and may assist in the reduction of community tensions.
While it is a highly nuanced body of scholarship, the research overwhelmingly highlights the problematic nature of the framing of Islam and Muslims by Western news media. This includes routine negative stereotyping of Islam and its adherents, the incorrect use of key terms in news stories, a lack of Muslim sources or voices in news stories, the portrayal of Muslims as religious or cultural “others” at odds with democracy and Western values, the conflation of Islam with violence and terrorism, and the portrayal of Islam as a religion that condones both.
The independent research project is national in its ambit and has been funded under a competitive grants scheme facilitated by the Commonwealth’s Attorney-General’s Department (about $480,000 has been allocated over the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 financial years).
We completed stage 1 of the project in June 2015. This involved an extensive review of the literature about news media coverage of Islam and Muslim people, an assessment of case studies of news media reportage across media types at national and community levels, interviews with experts in the field, and the distillation of international studies to develop a schema for assessing reportage against world best practice in the area. We recommended the development of a suite of research-driven curricula, training and resources to better equip the news media report more mindfully in this space.
Stage 2 of the project started in mid-2015 and we are due to complete it in mid-2016. Funding for a third stage in 2016-2017 will be subject to a new application process under the Commonwealth competitive grant scheme.
In the current stage of our project we are being supported by a full-time Project Manager (Mr Abdi Hersi), a full-time Principal Research Fellow (Dr Kate O’Donnell) and part-time Muslim researchers and/or trainers.
What resources are being developed?
Our focus is on developing key training and education resources for journalists, journalism educators and journalism students. These are:
- A database-supported app for Mac and Android as an easy access tool for information, reporting tips and suggestions for journalists and journalism students;
- A website to host electronic copies of training and education materials and to provide an interface with identified stakeholders and collaborators via comment streams and social media engagement;
- Case studies and a range of print materials;
- Audio-visual material focusing on scenarios/role playing in relation to possible issues that might arise in the research and reporting of stories about Islam and Muslims;
- A Handbook of Reportage for journalism, focusing on tips and suggestions for covering stories involving Islam and Muslims, as well as suggestions for considering legal issues that might arise in the course of covering such stories.
Who are you consulting with during the project?
Open communications, consultations and meaningful collaborative relationships with a broad range of key stakeholders underpin this project. In 2015 an Expert Advisory Panel was formed to provide input into the Project, shape its direction and influence its outcomes. Members of this panel include key Muslim community members, international academic experts, educators and leading media industry personnel. This panel has been and will continue to be consulted throughout the Project.
Every effort has been made to include Muslims and journalists in the project to ensure that their voices resonate throughout the training and education resources being developed. For example, we recorded an interview with leading foreign correspondent Peter Greste on the need for more mindful coverage of Islam, while Muslim academic and community leader Professor Mohamad Abdalla explains the potential impact of adverse media coverage on Muslim people.
Having successfully trialled the resources, we are now rolling out training for a broad range of media practitioners including editors and news directors, sub-editors and producers, social media editors, digital media professionals, journalists, journalism educators and journalism students at selected locations across Australia.
What are the key research outputs?
There is a strong research dimension to this project, with several conference presentations already presented and planned, a journal article under review and several in progress, and a book proposal drafted. We are running a training session at the International Communication Association Conference in Japan in June 2016 and presenting a paper at the World Journalism Education Conference in Auckland in July 2016.
Where can I get more information?
More information is progressively being made available on the Project’s website. See www.reportingislam.org.