Islamophobia and the media, a decade on

It is a decade this week since the Runnymede Trust report on Islamophobia was published in the UK. It identified instances of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim representations in British media, and tried to define Islamophobia in a rigorous way. The hope was that media would acknowledge when they were being Islamophobic and change their habits. A decade on, Chris Allen argues the report failed: it had little impact on Islamophobia in British public life. We might suggest that it is a little naïve to think journalists and news editors would take notice of such a report, or that the presence of anti-Islamic attitudes are not simply an effect of media, but Allen’s observations about how Islamophobia has changed are interesting. It is not simply that Islamphobia has increased, but that it has become naturalised and more nuanced, he argues. There have been some decent studies of these processes, for instance in the work of Elizabeth Poole and John E. Richardson (and both).

There is much talk that participatory new media will allow those disillusioned with mainstream media to create their own representations of what’s going on in the world, and in this way change the contours and character of the national public sphere. Those feeling that their voices and opinions are systematically excluded from the mainstream have their chance to tell their own stories, and not allow their identities to be defined solely by others. Can we say whether the apparent failure of the Runnymede report and residual Islamophobia in Britain are an indictment or product of that vision, or are things more complex? Does Islamophobia even exist?