Newsrooms in the UK often lack a basic understanding of different ethnic communities across the country, according to a Birmingham-based investigative journalist Amardeep Bassey.
In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, Bassey said that journalists have regularly got reporting wrong when covering stories relating to UK minorities. As an example, he cites the recent protests by Muslim parents in Birmingham over the teaching of an LGBT module at local schools.
"The press coverage and the attitude of those who are very much in favour of teaching LGBT issues to children of that age have framed it into an argument of ‘here we have these Muslim parents, this is all about homophobia’, despite the parents publically going out of their way to say it isn’t.
Bassey went as far as to suggest that some reports on the protests have come close to adopting the sentiment of xenophobes and racists.
"The media has mimicked this into an ‘us v them’, and in some media coverage bordered with an attitude of ‘this is how it’s done in England, if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from.’
"The fact is in Islam and in Sikhism, religion and politics are the same. You cannot have one without the other, so there is no separation."
Biased reporting on teaching children LGBT issues is not an isolated case by the press, Bassey explained. He also highlighted the media’s portrayal of honour killing as another example of a lack of understanding of different religious and ethnic groups.
"There’s a conflating sometimes between religion and culture. Honour killing is almost equated as a Muslim thing, but the truth is that nowhere the religion condones or talks about that. It is a cultural or tribal thing that came before religion, so it’s very easy to conflate cultural traditions and religious traditions, but there is a difference."
Bassey added the lack of effort to understand these crucial differences or to comprehend individual perspectives when it comes to reporting BAME stories amounts to "lazy journalism."
"If you have any Asian festival, the general media portrayal is very descriptive about the vibrant colours and how lovely everyone looks with very little explanation as to what exactly is the meaning of the festival, why they celebrate it, how does it affect them in the UK as British Sikhs or a British Muslims."
This lack of knowledge has other knock-on effects. Not only do some journalists feel apprehensive about the prospect of speaking to people they consider ‘foreigners’, but also that journalists open themselves up to being misled and being unable to question positions held by those in the community.
"A lot of the journalists that come and report in our communities don’t know anything about them. Therefore, not always deliberately, some people in the community will be confident that they can mislead a journalist, knowing full well that this journalist won’t have the confidence or the knowledge to challenge them."
Bassey added that journalist’s tendencies to approach community leaders as representatives of the entire group or even religion "smacks of the old colonial days."
"It is patronising and the real fact is that the second and third generation BAME communities don’t work like that. There isn’t this focal community leader or he doesn’t carry anywhere near the influence that journalists might think he does."
To address this issue, Bassey said newsrooms need to go beyond just hiring more BAME people, as these may end up being pigeonholed into covering their community's stories.
"Get your journalists out there to mix with as many different communities as possible because that will only make them better journalists. There are a lot of basic misconceptions, like what is the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim and what are the different sects of Islam. These skills can be taught."
He also said that, if reporters want to "open up a whole new world of stories", they should go out of their way to talk to the ordinary men and women and not shy away from speaking to members of the community.
"Most second and third generation BAME community members are most likely born in this country and raised in this country. They’re not foreigners or visitors, and you’ll be surprised how much you have in common with this seemingly alien community.
"Chances are that the people you’ll be interacting with are as British as you are, or certainly as far as their background is concerned and their values and the way they were brought up."
Free daily newsletter
- Tool for journalists: Representation Matters, for royalty-free images that promote diversity
- Meet The Sista Collective - podcast made by and for Black British women
- New speaker joins Newsrewired panel on diversity in the newsroom
- Tool for journalists: Newsroom Transparency Tracker, for assessing trustworthiness of news
- How power and privilege shape communities