Working with the media

The following is a quick guide to working with the media designed for Muslim activists, community leaders and organisational representatives and community spokespeople. For more comprehensive understanding of how the media works and to effectively engage with the media we recommend you attend one of our media training workshops.

Media for Muslims – How to understand and work effectively with the media

It is imperative that you understand the mentality of the media in order to succeed in becoming a useful media source and to get your message across.

Traditionally the role of the media has been to perform the five following functions:
• surveillance of the environment
• to provide comment on or analysis of situations unfolding in the environment
• to educate audiences
• to provide entertainment
• to support the economic system (Granato 1991:21)

The media’s objective is to report the most controversial or sensational aspect of a story but they are not specifically anti-Islamic. In the past the media have attacked Christian groups, Trade Unions, Politicians, Asian gangs, Aboriginals and so on. Presently, Islam is in the limelight.

The media respect professionalism. Therefore, if you present yourself in a professional and respectful manner you will gain respect and the contact will return to you in the future. Do not entrust the media beyond your professional relationship.

Present yourself as a reliable source and remain courteous with the flexibility to be humorous. Always be honest and make sure what you say is accurate and relevant.

If you do not have the full information to hand at the time of a call. Just say I ‘ll call you back and gather the facts from your sources and then call back. Ascertain the nature of the enquiry, if it is off-the-record or just background information, clarify if the reporter is asking for a quote and if it will be published.

The Media are looking for a story. They have already called around before they got to you. Do not assume anything.
If you say “no comment” they will get a comment from somebody else, so if you feel you are the best person to make that comment then do it well. If not then pass it on to a reliable source. Do not make a comment if you are not sure of your facts or you do not know the full story.

There are three main types of media outlets, that is, Radio, TV and Print media, there is of course online media outlets but for the purpose of this course we will only look at the first three.

Radio
In radio the main people that are relevant to you are the:

• Executive Producer
• Producer
• Host (who will usually interview if it’s for a show)
• News Journalist/reporter (who will usually interview if it’s for a news report)

TV
In television the main people that are relevant to you are the:

• Director of News
• News Editor
• Chief of Staff
• Journalists
• Line Editor
• Reporters
• Tape Editors

Print

A Day in the Life of a newspaper company like the Daily telegraph would be roughly as below:

“The Story” – assigned to a reporter
- Deadlines
“The judgement” – editor reviews
Refines
Prioritises

“The conference table” – midway through the day

• What’s in what’s not
• Tomorrow’s story
• No duplication
• Placing the story- night editor
• Layout graphics
• Advertising – no. of pages decided by the volume of ads
• Will it fit- layout and news editor conference
• On editing articles
• Stories are zoned
• Pictures- pictorial representation and layout
• Graphics – diagrams- precharts
• Placing the picture
• Headline is written by sub-editor
• Accuracy story is passed to senior copy editor check, sub-editor makes sure there are no errors
• Layout editor oversees editing / resizing
• Late stories to be placed
• Technology
• Final check
• Edition control
• Roll it out
• Stop the presses- important updates

They have a meeting with Chief of Staffs each morning before they embark on their tasks for the day.
They have a strict deadline, usually about 6.30pm for daily newspapers.
They will often only want one factor in a broader story and use comments from others to complete the story so be careful what point of view or stance you are giving. Often all they want is you or your organisation’s viewpoint and then they will weigh it up with another viewpoint. Therefore, be concise and clear and focused on just a few points.
Usually, everything can be done over the phone.

Radio and TV reporters are more concerned with a 10 or 15 second grab. They will only use a very small portion of what you say therefore choose your words very carefully. There is actually a special way of expressing your self on TV, watch politicians and experienced people speak on the news. Examine their posture, their intonation and the terminology.

Especially in radio, one must be very concise and accurate. Therefore it is better if you prepare by writing down your points, keep them to a maximum of three.

Reporters do not know much about Islam, try to inform and educate them, they are very busy so make their job easy, they report what they see, don’t expect them to do da’wah for you.

Establish a good relationship with the media. Building such a relationship takes time but is worth it. The way you do this is through a number of ways:
• Attitude
• Press releases
• Interviews
• Letters to ed
• Publications

Attitude-
• Be Optimistic
• Positive
• Proud of Islam
• Focused
• Realistic
• We expect success- to express a positive image of Islam

Misconceptions:
• Islam is not a Middle Eastern religion
• The Quran is not a Muslim Bible
• Friday prayer is not a Muslim sabbath
• Jihad is not Holy war
• Islamic politics is not Islamic radicalism

DO NOT ACCEPT THE ROLE AS VICTIM

How to be a news source
• Be available
• Respond immediately
• Personalise and humanise the news-provide local angles
• Be factual- never exaggerate
• Don’t editorialise
• Be fair
• Provide help
• Bridge between you and media

THE PRESS RELEASE

Basic press release format can be adapted to any event

Examples of when to send a PR-
• Beginning of Ramadan
• Islamic conferences
• Visiting scholars
• Opening a new mosque
• Publicising Muslim relief efforts
• Community projects eg. Crime prevention
• Arrival of Muslim refugees
• Festivals/exhibits/concerts

Writing a PRESS RELEASE

• Most end up in the bin, because of limited space stories will be allocated in order of newsworthiness
• How many of our new readers/listeners are going to be interested in this issue?
• Does your Press Release cover any of the following:
• Is it an issue that has already grabbed the public’s attention?
• What impact will it have on our audience?
• Does it involve a crisis, conflict, controversy or scandal?
• Is there a human interest aspect?
• Is there a fresh angle- is it humorous or unusual that hasn’t happened before?
• Press Releases should catch the eye- use a letterhead that stands out, keep it short with snappy succinct paragraphs written in newspaper style. What, where, when and why.
• try to whet the journalists appetite, don’t give too much away, give it a hook, and make sure the contact number is easy to reach

The release should have the following features:

• Letterhead
• Immediate release and date
• Report as is (first line should be no more than 25 words)
• What, who, where, when,
• Quotes
• Use photo where appropriate
• Contact info to arrange for an interview

LETTERS TO EDITOR

• short one idea
• Clear
• Controversial
• Single-minded
• Prompt (respond immediately)

Talkback Radio

• Keep trying
• Don’t give your opinion before you go on air
• Be calm and not nervous
• Don’t argue (this is a trap)
• Jump over the barriers
• Don’t be hostile
• Control the interview don’t be controlled

When you get a call don’t give an answer straight away until you are sure or find out more and call back later

• Prepare 3 points you would like to make
• All answers revolve around these points
• Rehearse what you will say
• Assume audience knows nothing about the topic
• Keep notes
• Be friendly
• Keep sentences brief and clear

Here are some Position Statements. Position statements help you in being clear and consistent on your point of view or you and your organisation’s position on a particular issue or topic, as there are so many issues about Islam, its best to consult and develop a strong position statement.

Samples:

Multiculturalism

ISLAM teaches the benefits of pluralism and breaks down barriers of race or culture.
Islam is a universal message of the brotherhood of mankind. Islam is against racism and teaches tolerance and acceptance of all people of all backgrounds regardless of their faith, race or creed.

Integration

Islam teaches Muslims who migrate to follow the law of the land and to respect the leaders of the land. It teaches to do good works amongst the community and not to create mischief and to lead by example. It teaches one to live in harmony with the community and to follow the customs of the land as long as they do not clash with your faith.

Democracy

Democracy is an Islamic value. It is known as shura and ijma. Consultation and consensus. In Muslim societies the leader is chosen by the people and for the people and must rule as one of the people. There is no justification for royalty or for special treatment as a leader. In fact the responsibilities are much more onerous and must be guided by Islamic principles, which are much stricter than any man-made principles. Eg, honesty, transparency, justice and compassion, freedom of speech and religion, equality and fairness, conflict of interests, manner of speech or accusations without the accused to be there to defend themselves etc.

Voting

Voting is simply a choice. There is no rule in Islam which prevents a person from voting. However, Muslims must know who they are supporting and what values and principles that person stands for and if a member of a party what the party stands for. The guiding principles of voting in an elections is whether that person or party is advocating anything which clashes with the Islamic principles of fairness and justice.

Mixing with non-Muslims

Muslims are allowed to mix with non-Muslims. There is no prohibition nor is it valid to discriminate against, hate, abuse or exploit non- Muslims. Muslims are advised simply to guard against any negative influences in their lives that may weaken their iman or faith.

Mixing of men and women

Men and women are allowed to be together as long as there are others in the room. However, it is discouraged to have a man and a woman alone in a private room, regardless if they are Muslim or not. In such cases, it is advisable to leave the door open or to call in a third person.

Equality of men and women

Men and Women are equal in the eyes of God. That is that they totally equal in status and that neither one is better than the other.

The Hijab

Muslim women are required to wear a veil when in public. This is generally accepted as the covering of the head and neck and the body up to the ankles and the wrists. (showing the face)

Women’s rights

Muslim women have rights that they were granted 1400 years ago. The rights of equality to men, the rights to kindness and loving treatment by their spouses, the rights to safety and comfort in the home, the rights to own their own property or to earn their own income, the rights to retain their names, to inheritance, initiate divorce and to a dowry. Muslim women have the same obligations to pray and observe the fasts and pay zakat as men, (women are exempt from praying during menstruation).

Corporal punishment

Islam believes in preserving the chastity of society and upholds the highest degree of morals and social behaviour, to protect the moral fabric of society. Therefore in an Islamic state, corporal punishment would be allowed for certain crimes, however, the burden of proof is very strict. For instance in the case of adultery, there must be at least 4 witnesses. In the case of theft, one must understand why that person stole, if it was out of desperation or poverty, then they should be forgiven.

Interfaith relations

Muslims are allowed to have dialogue between non-Muslims and it is a responsibility for all Muslims to inform others about their faith.

Extremism

Muslims are against any form of extremism. Islam teaches the path of moderation, in any act, whether in prayer or fasting, being with family, working or eating. Islam is against violent extremism and condemns any acts that target women, children or the elderly.

Terrorism

In the same way Islam condemns extremism, Islam is against terrorism. Terrorism as defined as a violent act against the state targeting civilians, this is not a permissible form of warfare or defence.

Jihad & Fighting in wars

Muslims may defend themselves from attack or defend those who are being attacked. Muslims may defend those whose lands have been invaded or prevent others from invading their land if the intention is made clear. Muslims may not attack others in an aggressive act. During a war, they may not kill women, children or the elderly and they may not do harm to the environment such as to trees or harvests or to animals or livestock. They cannot rape women and they must treat prisoners of war humanely.

Suicide bombing

Suicide bombing is condemned by the majority of scholars. Suicide is not permissible in Islam at all. The killing of civilians is also not allowed. To take your life in the act of killing others is not an Islamically permissible action.
To kill on person is like killing all of humanity.

Muslim identity

Muslims are from diverse ethnicities and cultures. Islamic community in Australia is not an homogeneous community. Muslims identify as Muslims from one ummah or family. However, their nationality can be based on where they live and which passport they carry. Muslims do not prioritise what part of their identity is more important. To ask a Muslim if they are Muslim or Australian first is like asking them do they prefer their left hand or the right hand.

Halal products

Halal meat is simply meat that has been prepared in a manner which is acceptable by God. It maintains the most humane method of slaughter (by not severing the spinal chord), the healthiest way to prepare the meat (by draining the blood) and by declaring that one is doing it in the name of God and not for any other purpose, this makes the slaughter ethically and spiritually fair.