Be Part of the Conversation: Why Muslim Communities Need Media Training
by Ginella Massa Being part of the Muslim community, I hear all the complaints about our "negative portrayal in the media". Muslims as terrorists, oppressing and abusing their women, reluctant participants in western society. Though we can't deny that there are sectors of our religion who fall into this stereotype, for the most part, Muslims in the west are just trying to live regular daily lives as parents, students, doctors, teachers etc. while committing to their faith.
But how often are Muslim community members reaching out to media, making ourselves available for comment on stories that affect us, and proactively pitching stories to show the true face of Islam? From personal experience working in the field of journalism, it's very rare.
Throughout my career as a producer for a national news channel, and an assignment editor for local news, I've been tasked with finding Muslim guests to speak on stories like the Niqab ban, opposition to Muslim condominiums being built, or allowing prayer in elementary schools. The results were very disappointing. Finding Muslim leaders and community members who were willing to speak on camera has always proven very difficult. Many are reluctant to comment, and turn down interview requests mainly because of fear and lack of understanding of what news organizations are really after.
So how can we as Muslims use news media in our favour and take control of the message being put out about us? I'm making it my personal mission the help get community members educated through media training on how to be in control of the conversation.
Here are a few tips to get started:
Be proactive, not reactive
Don't wait for a news organization to come calling. When there is a story that affects the Muslim community directly or indirectly, reach out to local stations and offer up guests to comment. Be available and flexible, which takes me to my next point..
News is deadline driven. With 24-hour news channels, and newspapers operating online, information and articles need to be written almost as immediately as an event happens. When journalists are under pressure to submit their story as quickly as possible, they won't take the time to find the best person to speak, but rather go for the first one who returns their call.
Think globally, act locally
An issue or event doesn't need to be happening in your city for you to comment on it. FIFA's ban on hijabs in the soccer field may be halfway across the world. But what does it mean for Muslimah soccer players in Vancouver who may strive to reach international level success one day?
To tell a story well, reporters need interesting visuals to go along with it. In the case of the FIFA hijab ban, a group of young girls called hijabis to take part in a soccer game and invited media for a "photo op". It proved very successful in getting the story covered on television and in newspapers.
If you would like to get more information about media training or set up a workshop for your community group, contact firstname.lastname@example.org