Release Date: March 30, 2017
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jody K. Biehl, director of the University at Buffalo’s Journalism Certificate Program, is bringing together a panel of faith leaders, Muslim community representatives and journalists to discuss concerns over how Muslims and people of other faiths are represented in the media at a “Muslimedia” panel from 1:30-4:30 p.m. April 23 at The Islamic Center, 745 Heim Rd., Getzville.
Veteran Buffalo journalists Lee Coppola and Rich Kellman will headline a panel that will examine questions including: Is the phrase “Islamic terrorism” accurate or offensive? When should reporters mention the faith of a suspect or a source? How well did the local media cover recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in Buffalo?
President Trump’s election, his travel bans targeting Muslim-majority nations, and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups who kill in the name of religion have made this dialogue urgent, according to Biehl. Journalists should have first-hand knowledge about topics they cover; yet Biehl sees her UB journalism students writing about Islam without knowing much about it, and she fears this problem extends to the local and national media.
“When I asked the staff of our student newspaper, ‘How many of you have been inside a mosque?’ no one but our copy editor, who is Muslim, raised his hand,” Biehl said. “I realized there was a big gap between their perception of what they’re covering and reality.”
To address this concern, Biehl applied for a grant from the Society of Professional Journalists (www.spj.org) to host a Muslimedia panel. Muslimedia grants are available nationwide to professional journalists wishing to provide a platform for blunt discussions among members of the press and leaders of the Islamic faith. Biehl accepts that the misconceptions often go both ways, with Muslims questioning why more positive news stories rarely make it to the front page.
“You can argue that yes, there are positive stories that should be shared,” Biehl said. “But there must also be recognition that a journalist’s job is not to portray a community in any particular agreed-upon way. The job is to report what happens. Part of the Muslimedia discussion will revolve around this relationship between the community and the press, as well as opportunities for Muslim stories to have a larger presence in the Buffalo and national news.”
The Muslimedia panel event and reception is free and open to the public.
Biehl hopes to connect with local news outlets, service organizations, members of other religious communities, and individuals who could either benefit from or contribute to the discussion. During the event, audience members will be invited to ask questions about Islam, current journalism practices, as well as witness and talk about an Islamic prayer session. A light halal meal will be served.
“It’s my hope that by seeing and experiencing Islamic faith and Muslim culture, demystification will occur,” Biehl said. “Many people only know what they read, and often what they read about Muslims only relates to terrorism. Muslimedia will serve as a looking glass into the ‘other,’ which doesn’t happen often.
“I also hope it will inspire professionals to deepen their knowledge of any faith before reporting on it. For my students, I’m confident this practice will result in savvier, more empathetic citizens and — ultimately — better journalists.”
Muslimedia will begin at 1:30 p.m. with a welcome and a brief interactive prayer session. The panel discussion will start at 2:30 p.m. Learn more: http://journalism.buffalo.edu/journalism-and-islam/.
The panel is sponsored by The Society of Professional Journalists, the UB Journalism program, the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, Congregation Havura, ACCESS of WNY, Muslim Public Affairs Council of WNY, Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo.