The media owes all of us the truth and nothing else. In other words they have a journalistic duty to portray the facts as they are. But sadly they have become disingenuous in carrying out their duty when it comes to viewing the truth about Islam.
According to the American Press Institute the first element for practicing good journalism is the obligation to truth and it says that "This 'journalistic truth' is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts." And Columbia Journalism Review states that a "Journalist is only as good as her sources" and "verification before dissemination."
If truth is a core journalistic principle then why is it neglected by the media when it comes to Islam? The Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmed of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community recently spoke on this issue at the UK Peace Symposium 2016, "It remains that our peaceful and inclusive message is not covered extensively in the media. Whilst, on the other hand, those relatively few people involved in brutality and carnage are given non-stop worldwide media coverage and attention."
The words of the Khalifa are on-point because the most talked about groups when it comes to Islam in the media are ISIS or Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab (Somalian militants). They have a non-Islamic agenda and their main victims are Muslims but they automatically represent Islam according to the media.
In July of 2015 Boko haram killed 140 Muslims in three different mosques in Nigeria's northeast Borno state. Human Rights groups have tracked ISIS killing many thousands of Muslim civilians. The recent deadly Lahore attack was implemented by the Pakistani Taliban targeting Christians on Easter but killed mostly Muslims who were also there.
A deeper investigation shows that most peace-loving and practicing Muslims have a disdain for extremists in Islam. When Pew recently did a survey in the spring of 2015 it found out that nations with large Muslim populations have an unfavorable opinion of ISIS. Even before the Lahore attacks Pew research indicates that a majority of the Pakistanis had an unfavorable opinion of the TTP or Pakistani Taliban (who claimed the attack).
The attacks in Paris and Brussels are good case in point for the media being disingenuous to its audience. It gave non-stop media coverage and highlighted Islamic extremism and Muslims refugees as the problem. But when similar attacks happened in Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan where the majority were Muslim victims there was minimal coverage. This bias creates an erroneous perception that Muslim extremists represent Islam and are out to kill non-Muslims as a teaching of their faith.
In light of the words of the Khalifa the media has also become disingenuous to peaceful Muslim groups. In fact, one such example is the voice of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community which is minimally being heard over the extremists. They follow all of the tenets of Islam, Quran, and the example of Prophet Muhammad. In America alone they have collected 39,477 pints of blood donations. In the past four years, they have fed hundreds and thousands of people. Since they were founded a 128 years ago they have fully and unfailingly represented a peaceful Islamic ideology. But since their name is not capturing the headlines all across the media landscape like the extremist groups are, a majority of Americans have no understanding that Islam is peaceful and tolerant.
This leads into another reason why the media is disingenuous: they neglect another valid and important point stated by the Review for Accurate Journalism, "The quality and diversity of sources is hugely important."
If a Journalist is considered to be as good as his/her sources like the Review stated, then the current state of journalism is abysmal when portraying the truth about Islam. It means they are as good as the extremists who they inadvertently portrayed as "quality" sources on Islam.
The media also gives Islamophobes like Ayan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris a platform to speak about Islam. First they are not experts on Islam and second they have an axe to grind against it. The bottom line is that they are not "quality" sources on Islam either. In some cases, like Ayan, they have even been publicly caught lying; she lost her Dutch citizenship because of that. It would be like the media giving white supremacist or a Neo-Nazi a platform to speak about Judaism.
It is important to know that the media has the power to shape the perceptions of a society and influence public opinion. The Khalifa also elaborated on this issue, "In terms of perception, it seems most people are willing to overlook the wars conducted by certain world powers, or at least not affiliate their actions to any religion. However, we live in a climate in which Islam's teachings are being targeted, we see that all cruelties or wars carried out by Muslims are immediately linked to the teachings of Islam."
The Khalifa is right because there have been two Persian Gulf wars that have resulted in thousands of Iraqis civilians dying, drone wars that have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed based on a report by the Brookings Institute, and assisted the overthrow of governments that have resulted in Middle Eastern civil wars like Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. These conflicts are never associated with Christianity or Judaism by the media. But ISIS which wants world domination, Al-Qaeda which is against western imperialism, and Boko Haram which is literally against western education is somehow associated with Islam.
This has skewed the image of Islam so much that a pew research survey in the summer of 2014 stated that most Americans gave Islam a "thermometer" rating (0-100) of a cool 40, or negative rating, lower than atheists, and the lowest in comparison to other faiths.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA members have published over 1705 pieces in the defense of Islam to multiple international, national, and local print and online media since 2002. Even then a recent YouGov poll after the Brussels attack states that 51% of Americans want a ban on Muslims entering the US. We can see the creation of a negative perception about Islam is more prevalent than a positive one because the media has not honored their obligation to the truth when it comes to Islam.
It is their duty by the very principles of truth in journalism that I talked about that they similarly portray Islam under it without being disingenuous. At the end of the day they are one of the biggest factors who are helping to shape our opinions and perceptions towards how we all view the truth about Islam.