Shaykh Daoud’s Blog

Churnalism: Who is feeding the Press?

with 3 comments

As I was sorting through my notebook, I came across some quotes and references I’d made of Nick Davies’s two pieces in the Press Gazette on 4th and 11th February this year about his concept of “churnalism”, which he has expanded upon in his book Flat Earth News. I’ve yet to buy the book, which is on my “must read” list, but the articles were disturbing enough; especially the first one where he cited a journal a young provincial reporter had kept for him in which he stated that he’d written 48 stories in a week, spent three hours out of the office and spoken to four people face-to-face. As Davies pointed out that that isn’t journalism.

He then developed this with the findings from a survey he’d commissioned from the School of Journalism at the University College of Wales, Cardiff, which showed that most of what gets written in the Press these days is the product of PR agencies or one or other of the wires – mainly PA – simply because staffers haven’t got the time or resources to do proper journalism. This has been brought about by corporate take-overs of the publishing houses and the financial constraints imposed on the news rooms and features by accountants. Such a situation is wide-open to manipulation. So which wires and which PR agencies are feeding the copy on Islam and Muslims?

This is particularly germane given the hysteria that accompanied the ambush of the Archbishop of Canterbury in February after his statement about Shariah Law, and more recently the same ignorant emotionalism that appeared after Lord Phillips LCJ made some similar remarks at the end of June. Who is feeding the Press?

It was salutary to read Peter Oborne’s column in The Daily Mail last week, where he addressed the subject of “Islamophobia” that he tackled in his Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Monday night, 7 July. Even Melanie Phillips in her riposte to Mr Oborne in The Daily Mail of Tuesday, 8 July, made some telling points. But I think she failed to spot the core matter, which is why is it that despite their protestations to be concerned about “Islamist Extremism” in the UK the only people the authorities will talk to or consult with are those very people – at least in the form of members of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and the Ikhwanu-l Muslimeen? Is this myopia accidental?

Ms Phillips has been one of the leaders of the pack apparently concerned about Shariah Law appearing in the UK. Other prominenti have been, predictably I suppose, the Bishop of Rochester (the Rt Hon Dr Michael Nazir-Ali), Canon Dr Patrick Sookhdeo (although I would agree with him about the Hilali-Khan translation of the Quran “Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language” – we already have far too much Wahhabi propaganda and dezinformatsiya floating around), and the co-sponsor of the Quilliam Foundation the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and Member for Surrey Heath the Rt Hon Michael Andrew Gove MP. All of these have written columns in the print newspapers and magazines and have appeared on TV and Radio talk shows. I wonder why Muslim commentators have been conspicuous by their absence?

At the time he died in 2006, my late friend, Dr Muhammad Zaki Badawi KBE, yarhamahu-Llah, was perhaps the chief public representative of the Muslim communities in the UK, standing with the Chief Rabbi for the United Hebrew Congregation or the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and the Advisor on Islamic matters to HRH The Prince of Wales. He was also a well published journalist. He told me that since 9-11 he had had only four short articles published explaining the Islamic position on things. This against the backdrop of a welter of negative copy from ‘big names’.

Since the tragic events in New York on 11 September 2001, and the subsequent atrocities in Madrid and London, there has been in the Press a parade of people like Drs Nazir-Ali and Sookhdeo, including in the USA Dr Daniel Pipes, Professor Bernard Lewis, and Dr Alan Dershowitz. Yet, where are the real experts to be read like Bishop Kenneth Cragg, Rev Dr Chris Hewer, Professor Rev Dr Richard Bonney, Dr Antony T. Sullivan, Professor Tamara Sonn, or Dr John A. Makdisi? I wonder how many prominent Muslims have been given column inches? Dr Hamid Algar? Dr Gabriel Haddad? Dr Sachiko Murata? Dr William Chittick? Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson? This brings me back to an old hobby-horse of mine: the profession of journalism as exemplified and expatiated by John Delane, late Editor of The Times, in a famous editorial on 6 February 1852.

“…The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions, until diplomacy is beaten in the race with publicity. The press lives by disclosures; whatever passes into its keeping becomes a part of the knowledge and the history of our times; it is daily and for ever appealing to the enlightened force of public opinion – anticipating, if possible, the march of events – standing upon the breach between the present and the future, and extending its survey to the horizon of the world. The statesman’s duty is precisely the reverse. He cautiously guards from the public eye the information by which his actions and opinions are regulated; he reserves his judgment on public events till the latest moment, and then he records it in obscure or conventional language; he strictly confines himself, if he be wise, to the practical interests of his own country, or to those bearing immediately upon it; he hazards no rash surmises as to the future; and he concentrates in his own transactions all that power which the press seeks to diffuse over the world. The duty of the one is to speak; of the other to be silent. The one expends itself in discussion; the other tends to action. The one deals mainly with rights and interests; the other with opinions and sentiments. The former is necessarily reserved; the latter essentially free.

It follows, therefore, from this contrast, that the responsibilities of the two powers are as much at variance as their duties. For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world…

The responsibility we acknowledge has therefore little in common with that of statesmen, for it is estimated by a totally different standard of rectitude and duty. Of all professions, statesmanship is that in which the greatest laxity of practice is tolerated by the usages of society. Concealment, evasion, factious combinations, the surrender of convictions to party objects, and the systematic pursuit of expediency, are things of daily occurrence among men of the highest character once embarked in the contention of political life. We know not if these be useful or essential parts of statesmanship, and we more than suspect that Lord GREY would confess by his own experience that they are not so. But we know that they are absolutely destructive to the credit, the power, and the success of a public writer; and he who would traffic with his pen on such terms had better take refuge at once among those mercenary hacks who court the favours of every successive Government. Of all journals; and of all writers, those will obtain the largest measure of public support who have told the truth most constantly and most fearlessly…”

By “statesmen” Delane meant politicians; and by “public writers”, journalists.

I had begun this as the introductory part of my observations on Shari’ah and Islamic Theology, and somehow I got diverted. However, this consideration of just who is feeding the press the stories is vitally relevant, given the mischief that is being perpetrated against the Muslim communities in the UK. If, as Mr Davies seems to be saying, that the majority of stories that the Press publishes don’t originate with that particular newspaper, magazine, radio or TV broadcast, and aren’t really checked for accuracy and veracity, it becomes a matter of urgent public concern just where the stories originate from?

To conclude. In today’s Daily Mail (Thursday, 10 July), which I’m reading in the same branch of Caffe Nero as a couple of postings ago, the frontpage pic is about Abu Qatada run over two columns vertical, with a full page report on Page Five, and the First Leader. It raises some pertinent points, it’s true. But what it doesn’t do is ask the questions a responsible “public writer” of the past would have: what is his tarbiyyah? how was he allowed to function for so long while preaching seditious nostrums? why was no notice taken by the authorities of the comments made by Shaykh Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi at the annual conference of the Muslim Association of Britain a couple of years ago? and what do the authorities propose to do now that HE Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar (Minister of Endowment and Guidance of the Republic of Yemen) is in the country? Do they even know who he is and what he has done?

Written by David Rosser Owen

July 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Never any reportng on the fact that Sharia itself tells Muslims who go to live in non Muslim countries that they are to subject themselves to the laws of the lands they live in. Or in fact that the results of a study of the views of British Muslims on whether Sharia should be imposed in Britain, was that the majority opinion (more than 60%) said no.

    If our news is produced by PR houses, and we know their intent is whatever fill’s the corporate purse, than you know they would endorse the imposition of Sharia. The Arab states own large shares of this media, and other corporate interests cater to them to further their other interests.. so you’re wrong on that score.


    July 11, 2008 at 3:55 pm

  2. salam Sh. Daoud,

    At present, I think only American hacks think of themselves as ‘professionals’, awarding themselves annual prizes and degrees from prestigious universities. Journalism, though, is more a ‘trade’ than a ‘profession’.

    Despite the problems with our press, as exposed by Nick Davies (I highly recommend Flat Earth News), I would question if there was some ‘golden age’ of the press, where truth alone counted. For example, much the same things that are said about Muslims today (and ‘immigrants’ in general), were said about Irish Catholics (stealing our jobs, a dirty and repulsive community, they owe allegiance to a foreign religion) or Eastern European Jews (funny customs and traditions, insular, keen to destroy Our British Way Of Life) throughout the 19th-c and early 20th-c.


    July 24, 2008 at 12:29 pm

  3. In a run up to the US presidential elections in November 2008, some circles are stirring
    anti-Islam sentiments as a campaign ploy. Since mid-September, 28 million copies of a DVD of the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” are being distributed free of cost in newspapers across the United States.

    Click at URL link to see what TAM editor Sheila Musaji has been able to discover in the media about this propoganda campaign.


    September 20, 2008 at 12:50 pm

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