ZAMBOANGA CITY (Darwin Wee / 25 Jun) An Australian state adviser on Muslim affairs has urged the Philippine media to be more sensitive in reporting about Muslims, particularly when associating the word "Islam" to"terrorism," as this may lead to another wave of conflict and discrimination against the social acceptance of Muslim minorities in the community.
"The media shape perceptions, attitudes and public opinion. They can,therefore, influence public views and policies towards Muslim," said Dr. Ameer Ali, head of the Muslim Community Reference Group in Australia, who went here recently to
speak his insights on the situation of the Muslim minorities in the world.
Speaking at a forum in the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, he said Philippine media should "behave responsibly when reporting about Muslims because too much negative portrayal of Muslims in the media will create a general climate of suspicion and increased hostility against Muslims."
Dr. Ali's call was in response to the observations of Zamboanga City's Muslim academicians in their protest regarding how the media, particularly some national newspapers, used the word Muslim or Islam as a prefix in associating with extremist, fundamentalist,secessionist, rebel, lost command, gangster, terrorist, smuggler, hold-upper, and kidnapper and other derogatory terms.
According to one Muslim professor of Western Mindanao State University, some national papers tend to neglect positive news — "as good news does not sell papers".
"They [editors and publishers] are more focused on the reports about radical Islam, and the threat it poses to Philippine appear to be much more 'newsworthy'," Prof. Ali T. Yacub said.
"We don't want the stereotypical picture of the Muslim as the radical, the fundamentalist -- or worse, the terrorist. Media should be persuaded to carry stores, too, that show Muslims as citizens or residents who are discriminated against and faced with racism," he added.
Dr. Ali, on the other hand, said that since the Philippine is a democratic country just like Australia, the government does not control the media, and even a mild regulation will "raise the specter of impinging on freedom of expression."
However, he noted the Philippine government could replicate what the Australian's government did to address the problem."
One thing the [Australian] government did both on the state and commonwealth levels was to provide free media training to Muslim community leaders.
Several such training sessions were provided to enable Muslim community leaders to confront the journalists head on.
At the same time several government ministers urged the journalists to pay heed to the potential damage they may cause to Australia's economy and image abroad by sensational reporting on Islam and Muslim," he said.
Dr. Ali explained media should be the partners in promoting peace rather than discrimination."Positive coverage in the media can lead to a more positive attitude towards a diverse and inclusive society.
And I know from experience that not all journalists always want to report the bad news. Seeing the odd glimmer of light can also be a good story," he said.
Last year, several Muslim groups here in Mindanao joined the global furor after a Danish cartoonist illustrated a drawing depicted Islam's holiest figure with a bomb in his turban.
The "obscene cartoon" eventually caused so much violence and destruction in Europe and Great Britain.