(Photo: Chris Schuepp)
You can tell a lot about the press by how they report on an independent social survey. More often than not, they will have chosen their angle before even looking at the results and will then choose which statistics best highlight the often biased points they are trying to make.
Take the recent survey by Institut Montaigne on French Muslims. The liberal French research organisation surveyed just over 1,000 French Muslims on their views on a variety of subjects. Surprise surprise, the usual suspects the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have chosen to focus on the minority of those surveyed who hold conservative religious views.
Around 24% of those surveyed supported wearing the burqa or niqab. This leaves, of course, an overwhelming majority of 76% that were not in favour of full face veils.
This was enough for the Daily Mail to report with the headline ONE IN FOUR FRENCH MUSLIMS WANT ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE FORM OF ISLAM WHICH FORCES WOMEN TO WEAR FACE VEILS, STUDY FINDS.
The Daily Express went with ONE IN FOUR FRENCH MUSLIMS SUPPORT BURKA, SURVEY FINDS.
The objective is clear from these headlines. Never mind the overall picture. Promote that link in people’s minds between Muslims and support for oppression of women.
Interestingly, nearly half of those surveyed – 46% – classified themselves as secular, demonstrating an attachment to their religion only by eating halal meat. This information is buried away deep down in the article, far away from the sensationalist headlines.
The survey also showed that the vast majority of Muslims accept curbs on religion in public. Other statistics included two-thirds of women reporting that they did not wear a headscarf, 56% of women saying they were happy to use mixed swimming facilities and only 29% saying they attend a mosque on a weekly basis.
So overall it would seem that French Muslims are largely secular, with moderates greatly outnumbering conservatives and radicals. Quite a different picture from that painted by the Daily Mail and Daily Express.
People may think that 25% is a large enough figure to justify the way these tabloids have reported. Fair enough, but it’s worth pointing out that similar figures are often found in such surveys. For instance, a 2010 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 25% of people believed that there should be more religious involvement in public policy.
Most of us in Britain know and accept that the general consensus is for religion to be kept separate from the political sphere. If the press had reported on that survey by trying to focus on the minority that wanted closer ties between religion and politics, it would have sounded daft. Yet people readily accept it when the tabloid press reports on Muslims.
It’s time we called the press out on their inflammatory and biased reporting and demanded a fairer and more accurate representation of such information.
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