Media Bias: When a Muslim Commits a Crime
At the MPAC Media Monitoring Unit (MMU); the first important task we are doing is to document concerns and trends among Muslims and the general media performance in the wider Nigerian society. Both positive and negative trends shall be monitored by studying the coverage and reportage pattern of Islamic or Muslim affairs- news and events within and outside our borders, and how the Nigerian media coverage of these fall within the global media trends towards Islam and Muslims. MPAC Media and Communications department will regularly engage in strategies to hold the media accountable to their own codes of practice and use performance measuring tools to appraise the Nigerian media to decide on the issues they cover well and those that need better coverage.
HOW TO CONDUCT THE STUDY
- Choose a period of time (between 6 months and 1 year) to survey a particular media outlet.
- Count the number of times coverage of Islamic or Muslim-related issues appears.
- Document specific cases of biases or inconsistencies.
- At the same time, keep track of the news that’s being left out.
- Make sure that all the data collected is completely accurate and our conclusions are well supported; we realize that the outlet under study will probably look for errors, and if it finds any MPAC credibility will be undermined.
Once we’ve compiled a comprehensive study with facts and figures, we’re ready to make a strong case. We would then get the names of editors at the media outlet we’ve studied and write a letter asking them for a meeting. The letter will explain to them about MPAC and that we’re concerned with the coverage of a particular issue and that we would like to discuss the findings of our study with the appropriate editor, producer, or news director. We will then follow up with a phone call about a week later, and be persistent if necessary until they agree to set up a meeting, which may preferably include members from other Islamic group and perhaps representatives from the general Muslim community who can speak on the issue and make our case stronger. These community representatives can also serve as ongoing sources for reporters. MPAC considers that it is best to bring no more than four or five people to the meeting.
Prior to the meeting, we will prepare an agenda or identify points for discussion. Everyone from the MPAC side must be familiar with the study and develop a format for presenting the information. For instance, deciding who will make opening remarks, who will ask which questions, who will present our ideas about improving coverage, who will give closing remarks, and so on.
It is also important to be psychologically prepared. Some editors and news directors will be friendly and at least claim that they welcome comments and suggestions. Others, who are not used to being held accountable, may get defensive and question our study, accuse us of witch-hunting or simply put the blame on tight budgets and ‘publisher’s devil’. We will not be intimidated! We would insist on being treated with courtesy and respect and avoid making accusations, and never loose our temper.
If the issue involves coverage of events happening outside the country and if the media outlet can afford it, we will demand the person in charge send a correspondent to the region or hire a freelance journalist to cover the area. This is an alternative to wire reports, whose content is not controlled by individual news organizations.
To ensure quality of coverage, MPAC will always request that coverage features expert sources and people who are affected by policy decisions rather than just the views of policy makers and other spokespeople. MPAC MMU staff will also use this opportunity to request space for public service announcements and inquire about expressing our views on the Opinion/Editorial page or in an on-air commentary.
We will always seek to conclude the meeting with the following;
1. Specific request for better coverage, based on what we found in the study.2. Offer ourselves or the community representatives as sources, and provide a list of additional contacts.3. Re-cap any commitments the media representatives may have made and thank them for their time.4. Let them know that we’ll continue to monitor the coverage.
MPAC will continue to press for better coverage depending on what kind of response we get. If we’ve met with the media to express our concerns, and we haven’t noticed any changes in the coverage, we will:
1. Organize “letters to the editor” campaigns
Get people interested in our issue to write letters asking for more coverage of the issue. The letters might also respond to inaccuracies or biases that came through in any coverage that appears, reflecting the concerns expressed in the meeting. Such inputs will try to include any important information that’s been left out of a story.
2. Write op-ed pieces
We will contact writers or journalists who are familiar with our issue and willing to align themselves with our cause to write op-ed pieces. Most Nigerian media outlets use sources like CNN or the BBC for commentary and analysis in foreign events affecting Muslims, we will keep ourselves updated on the ways issues are discussed on these outlets and go further to suggest alternative news outlets; it’s only fair that they balance the coverage by using sources from the alternative press. We will always strive to prove ourselves a credible and up-to-date source of information by sending out press releases on new developments to media outlets. Also, by calling them immediately with breaking news and describe its impact.
1. How much coverage does our issue get? (Count the number of times a story on your issue appears in the particular media outlet you’re monitoring)
2. Who are the sources used in the story? (List their names and positions. For example, Mr. X Anonymous, a Local Government spokesperson.)
3. Where did the story come from? (A wire service or a staff reporter?)
4. Is the coverage factual or based on speculation or opinion?
5. Are negative terms used to describe sources that might be considered alternative to official sources? For instance, are Muslim groups labeled “radical”, unfairly giving them less credibility, while other sources are labeled “official”, or does the report attempt to create a split in the community by describing a group ‘moderate’ and another a ‘fundamentalist’?
6. How long are the stories that cover our issue? (Briefs, photographs with captions, lengthy news stories, or features?)
7. Does coverage reflect actual circumstances and provide adequate context? Are the root causes of the problem explained? Is there some historical background provided, or does the issue seem like it came out of nowhere?
8. Are there places where our issue is being covered or being covered better? If so, who are the sources and how are both sides represented?
Media Bias: When a Muslim Commits a Crime