London: Certain British mainstream media outlets are facing fierce criticism for seeking to link Norway horror attacks to “Islamist extremists”. Muslim groups and multiculturalists accused the British media of a “knee-jerk” response after initial coverage wrongly linked Oslo bombing and the shooting spree in a nearby island to Islamists. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted security experts, minutes after the bomb blast in Oslo, as blaming the attack on the Islamists.
It was while that police, within hours, identified the perpetrator as 32-year-old ethnic Norwegian Anders Behring Brevik with fundamentalist Christian views.
However, the outlets continued with their desired speculation.
Britain’s best-seller newspaper The Sun published a banner headline Saturday, which described the attack as an “Al Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11”.
“Witnesses claimed the gun maniac was blonde with blue eyes and spoke Norwegian – raising fears that he was a home-grown Al-Qaeda convert,” read the paper’s lead story.
This was while that by the time the newspaper hit the streets Norwegian police had dismissed any links between the attacker and any jihadist group.
BBC journalist Jorn Madslien published an article on Friday afternoon, which started with the words: “If the bomb blast in Oslo turns out to be a terror attack, it will mark a 9/11 moment for Norway”.
The article prompted an angry response from Muslim News editor Ahmed Versi, who said Madslien’s implication that “terrorism” was defined by a perpetrator’s religion was totally wrong.
The speculations were heavily criticised as ‘just one example’ of an entrenched anti-Muslim bias that has developed in the media since the September 11 attacks on the US soil.
“Particularly many of the tabloids and … the tabloid news sites like to interpret mass acts of terrorism, mass violence, through the prism of Muslim terrorism,” said Anthony McClellan, the principal of AMC Media.
“In other words [they assume] the only real big-style terrorists are Muslims. The brand of terrorism is totally linked in their minds to Muslims and what they do”, said McClellan.
“The fundamental problem they had was that they got it wrong, which defeats the whole purpose of being accurate journalists and running an accurate media”, he said.
McClellan, a former television current affairs reporter, says it is not only the tabloid media – the BBC and other organisations do it as well.
“I believe the Guardian probably engaged in speculation. I think it’s more pronounced at the tabloid end,” he said.
“But I think they’re all guilty of it to that same degree because part of the problem is that those journalists or the editors putting up those headlines … want to give a very simplistic interpretation of a complex world.”
McClellan is not alone in his criticism of the media’s reaction.
Blogger and Brown University historian Shiva Balaghi described it as a shameful day for journalism and criticised journalists’ reliance on so-called terrorism experts who she says “conduct research by Google” and “tweet a mile a minute”.
Julie Posetti, a journalism lecturer at the University of Canberra who has studied the impact of media coverage on Muslims, deplores the way the news of the attacks were covered as very damaging to Muslims around the world.
“I think it was probably reasonable for people to ask questions about the likely nature of the attacks,” she said.
“But asking questions and drawing conclusions and then fanning those conclusions without a skerrick of evidence was irresponsible”, Posetti added.
“And more than irresponsible in terms of good journalism practice, it’s potentially very damaging to Muslims and people of Muslim background around the world”, she said.
Certain British media outlets initially sought, without any evidence, to suggest that the perpetrators of the attacks were of Islamic origin.
The recent events, which have put a spotlight on the practices of the media, must now extend to change the culture, which sees a knee-jerk reaction to stereotype Muslims.