Media Representations of Muslims in Australia

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Explore media representations of Muslims in Australia in the post-September 11 period. What are the effects of such images, both on the Muslim community, and the Australian community more broadly?

As one of the most significant social agents in today’s society, the media has the potential to not only influence, but also alter the views and opinions of the general public. According to the type of language used and the nature of the information being disseminated, its influence can have an immense impact on targeted minority groups. (Akbarzadeh & Smith, 2005) In the recent past, Muslims and Arabs have been the focus of media attention and the subject of negative imaging. Such images have affected both the Muslim community and the Australian community more broadly. This essay examines the way in which the media plays a role in shaping perceptions about Islam and Muslims in the West by focusing on cultural and religious differences, consequently resulting in the construction of the ‘Muslim other’.

Australia's Multiculturalism is the essence of the countries identity. The process of multiculturalism however, has not come easily; particularly for Muslims from the Middle East. The difference in cultural and religious beliefs, along with uninformed reporting, has resulted in misperceptions, and Muslims at times have been identified with extremism. The Muslim community within Australia moved toward public scrutiny even before September 11. The Skaf gang rapes of 2000 and matters concerning circumcision saw images of Muslims within the media being portrayed as “savage.” (Kabir, 2005:313) The Skaf gang rapes produced overwhelming media coverage as every trial, hearing and appeal was reported. A link between religion and crime was established as the criminals were automatically acknowledged and branded by the media as being “Muslim” and from “Middle-Eastern descent.” Consequently, rather than the Australian public identifying the criminals as just that – criminals – they inadvertently associated the crime with the religion and hence developed some what of Anti-sentimental feelings towards not only the religion, but the people who followed the religion. It could therefore be assumed that feelings of dislike were already stirring in the community and the September 11 attacks in a sense “legitimized” these feelings.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the consequent ‘war on terror’, the 2002 Bali bombings and the Cronulla riots, the Muslim community has become the centre of media hype. The image of Islam and Muslims in Australia, as portrayed by the media, seems significantly negative due to a combination of stereotypes, distortions and generalizations. In response to these major events it was recorded that 52% of articles printed in the Herald Sun, and 48% in The Age concerned Muslims and Islam and 14% of these articles represented Muslims in a negative light. (Akbarzadeh & Smith, 2005:14) The mass media depicts Muslims as immature, backward and foreign (Akbarzadeh & Smith, 2005) and hence constructing them as the ‘other’.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks put the religion of Islam under the spotlight. People who were ignorant of the religion usually gained their knowledge through what they read or watched on the news. Many of the headlines surrounding the attacks associated terrorism with Islam and therefore the assumption that Islam was a religion of terror was made. Kabir (2005:323) suggests that by “constantly presenting headlines, articles and images that remind readers of this “new enemy” of the west, the press reinforces perceptions that all Muslims (including the moderate) deserve the label of enemy.” The media is uninterested in the ethics involved in this type of reporting, but focuses on the ratings gained when reporting events that “resonate with the audience and manipulate current concerns.” (Cited in, Kabir, 2005:323)

Repetition of language used to describe Muslims in the news articles, often...
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