The Responsibilty of our Media 05 Oct 2014
Following on from my blog last week, Racism in Cricket, I was astonished to see the front page of The Bulletin (Gold Coast Newspaper) this week. Although it has a tiny readership and is an insignificant publication in international terms, I found their front page headline to be very disturbing! Tony Abbott, the current Australian Prime Minister, was pictured beside a burqa clad Muslim lady with the headline "Don’t Like Em"....
A headline on the front page of The Bulletin that appeared after Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, stated that any Australian was free to wear what they wanted but that he found the burqa confronting…. There are many reasons why this is the definition of irresponsible editing – firstly Tony Abbott said nothing of the kind and was in fact understanding the burqa as the Muslim woman’s chosen garb; what he actually said was “we are a free society and the government shouldn’t be telling people what to wear”. He then went on to express his personal opinion by saying that “I personally find it confronting”... surely he is entitled to an opinion? Isn’t that something we should all be entitled to? At no stage did he say “I don’t like 'em” (referring to Muslims) and to insinuate so is completely irresponsible.
The influence of the written word is extremely powerful, and what could be an even bigger travesty than the beheadings we have already seen from ISIS, would be if good Muslims and other citizens became embroiled in a race/religious war within our own boarders. It is not okay to go around beheading journalists or dignitaries to get across any religious message but what we all must do to try to stop this, is to not allow these evil clowns to cause disruption to our peace loving community. On the back page of the same newspaper was another overly dramatic headline, “Run Out Of Town”, pertaining to the sacking of the local AFL football coach. Well both parties stated that they mutually agreed to part ways and whilst this may be a smoke screen for a sacking, it is unfair to insinuate that he was run out of town.
To me, it is poor reporting and has gone on for generations now and appears to be getting worse as the media market becomes increasingly competitive with new e-magazines, newspapers and internet sites appearing every year. Whilst it is disappointing, it is only sport and as a sportsman I have suffered at the hands of the media on several occasions - it isn’t pleasant but the sun always comes up the next day. Journalists are for most part highly intelligent people, I believe it takes anywhere from 2 – 6 years to become a qualified journalist, thus putting them amongst the most educated members of our society. Just as doctors and lawyers are held in high esteem and expected to behave conscientiously, I feel exceptionally strongly that now is the right time for the media to act more responsibly! I would understand if these articles or editing were done by the uneducated but alas they are written in an attempt to draw people into buying that particular newspaper. If Tony Abbott was actually quoted correctly, I promise you it wouldn’t drum up half as much interest as his “Don't like em” comment. It is quite surprising to see that there are associations around the world that control all sorts of behaviour - we have the ombudsman to govern us; ASADA to oversee drug taking in sport… however we do not have a Body that manages deliberately misleading media. Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”; once our formal education is over we are often reliant upon what we read in the media to shape our opinions.
It is a sad and unfortunate reality that most of us have no access to accurate journalism. When I first became a professional cricketer I was of the opinion that whatever was reported in the newspapers was pretty accurate, however after a short while I realised that it was extremely rare for a journalist to give a completely accurate reflection of the game. More often than not the journalist wasn't really interested in the accuracy of his article especially when it was referring to the third day of a County game between Surrey and Derbyshire, if they were actually interested I found some of them didn’t even have a full understanding of the match.
After several years of playing, I came to the conclusion that I couldn't totally rely on what I read in the newspapers when it came to the reporting of a game of cricket. As I escalated up the ranks of professional cricket I made friends with athletes from other sports including rugby, football, boxing, tennis etc. In 2003 I was invited on to the TV show Superstars where I had several in-depth conversations with respected athletes in their field including Ellery Hanley, Linford Christie, Jonathon Davies, Sir Chris Hoy and John Barnes. We all agreed that, whilst there were good and bad journalists within our respective sports, we couldn't give a guarantee that what was to be written would necessarily be accurate. As time continued and I extended my outlook beyond sport to other aspects of the world, I made further acquaintances - a couple of these were financial experts and when I questioned them about the accuracy of what they read in the financial pages, they were united and said that a lot of the people writing the articles had their own agenda. This could include pumping a certain share or commodity that they had backed in an attempt to push the demand up for that particular item.
They also stated that beyond the certain bias was also a laughable lack of knowledge in some areas. I guess this could come from people not being experienced in all areas of finance. I am in no way blaming newspapers for the people they send out to report on finance or sport as you cannot have a specialist reporting on every area of the newspaper - it isn’t financially viable to have a cricket expert, a tennis expert, a football expert, a financial expert etc. Sport however is sport, it is a luxury and a past time… no one has ever gone to war over sport. However when it comes to the topic of religion I feel that the media need to show some intelligence, and in times such as these, to make sure their most senior and learned reporters are assigned to the particular topic of religion.
I know not everything can be compared to a game of cricket but as the captain of Surrey and England, I always tried to make sure that my 2 best bowlers were bowling at the pivotal points of the game. I think as a society we are at a crossroads and incorrect reporting or an uneducated or throw away topic could lead to rioting, killings or worst case scenario hysteria and even world war. In short it is okay to say Adam Hollioake played badly even when I feel I played well, it is not okay to give biased or one-sided reports on such serious topics such as the ones confronting us at the moment. Ask yourself this question? Do we seriously think that Muslim leaders havn't condemned the atrocities of ISIS? Or do we think that those particular comments aren’t newsworthy? I, for one, have many Muslim friends and some like Saqlain Mushtaq have dedicated their lives to their religion, they are as disgusted as any at the behaviour of ISIS - has this ever been reported in the media? Unlikely... it is more newsworthy to paint every Muslim with the same brush… As I have said in previous blogs, there are good and bad within every religion or atheist group… Ku Klux Klan, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin – an atheist who actually took it upon himself to order the destruction of churches and church property, to the point that the amount of active churches went from 50,000 to 500 open operating churches under his regime.
So it is irresponsible to tarnish any religion based on the actions of a few. Trying to bring up topics such as the burqa and individual cases of Muslims being unreasonable is irrelevant and provocative. The media has a responsibility to lead the way and educate people. I have lost so much faith in them that I have undertaken the unenviable task of reading the Koran in an attempt to get an unbiased view. Whilst I acknowledge the Koran won’t give me a complete understanding of the Muslim faith, just as the Bible won’t give me a total understanding of the Catholic faith, I am hoping that it will give me a pure aspect of the religion as I can not rely on reading extracts and interpretations in the media any more. It is sad really, because I generally only read books with pictures… I am calling on all editors to be responsible in these extremely volatile times we live in.
Now, more than ever, we need to be careful of what we say, we need to be accurate in our comments on these sensitive topics and keep the overly dramatic remarks to a minimum. In years gone by it has been okay to make up throw-away headlines and laugh them off, mainly due to the fact that the topics weren’t as important as the one before us today. Maybe if you have to do it then do it regarding sport or red carpet fashion but please, for the sake of peace, be very careful and accurate with your columns and headlines on these sensitive subjects. I know that editors are not Peacemakers.
The success of Editors jobs is mainly judged by increasing their readership and selling advertising. All I will say is that editors have been placed in a position of massive responsibility; with this responsibility should come respect from the public once they realise what an amazing job these people are capable of. Hopefully society will realise that these intelligent people have the power to change history and be unwitting pioneers of peace. Putting peace before the prospect of sales would give a lot of us faith in mankind again.