Saturday, 10 November 2012

way to spoil a saturday afternoon, mr cox

well, i was planning to have a quiet saturday afternoon.  but then i read this opinion piece published in the waikato times by michael cox, ex national MP and ex waipa district councillor.  and that sick feeling rose up in the pit of my stomach again.

i've been suffering from a lack of energy of late, but at least that sick feeling has spurred me to write a letter of complaint to the paper, which i've put in below.  i'd really appreciate anyone else writing or phoning the paper to register a complaint.  the best email to use would probably be - they don't actually give an email for complaints on their website or in the hard copy of their paper.

so here is my complaint:

Dear Sir


Details of Article
Opinion piece headed “We should listen to Malala about Muslim influence”
Author: Michael Cox
Page: B5
Date:  Saturday, November 10, 2012

Summary of Complaint
While acknowledging that this is an opinion piece rather than a news article so will not have the same level of accuracy, the piece is in breach of New Zealand Press Council (NZPC) Principle 1 of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Press Council and NZPC Principle 6 Discrimination and Diversity.  The headline is also in breach of NZPC Principle 5.  As a result of these breaches, harm will be caused to the Muslim community, in terms of further discrimination, personal safety and community cohesion.  I ask that the editor remove this piece from the Waikato Times website, and allow me to write an opinion piece in response of equal length, and with the same positioning, in a Saturday paper.

Breach of NZPC Principle 1
This principle requires that a publication “should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.”  In this case, the opinion piece breaches the principle of fairness through omission.  The author, while correctly pointing out the atrocity committed against schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, did not also point out the widespread protests carried out by Muslims in Pakistan and around the world against this particular atrocity.  There have been vigils, marches, articles and statements by religious and political leaders condemning the actions of the individual who shot her and the group he belongs to.  In failing to even mention any of this protest, the reader is left with the impression that this is an atrocity that is either approved of by Muslims around the world, or at the very least, that they have been silent because they do not care.  This is untrue and unfair, and gives a hugely negative impression of Muslims in general.

The opinion piece also breaches the principle of accuracy, in that the author quotes the findings of a Dr Peter Hammond at length, trying to prove that a significant Muslim population in a country leads to disharmony and discord.  These statements are presented as facts, even though they are included in an opinion piece, and the inclusion of fixed percentages gives an impression that there is some factual basis to the views provided.  However, no such factual basis is given in the piece for the assertions made by Dr Hammond.  Neither is there any coverage given to the fact that significant Muslim populations live in many countries without any significant discord.  Nor does it mention the atrocities committed against Muslims in some countries which are the real source of violence and discord.   For example, Bosnia is mentioned as an example of a country where the presence of Muslims has lead to violence, without any mention of the gang rape of tens of thousands of Muslim women in an act of ethnic cleansing, nor massacres such as the one at Srebrenica.  In the context of the piece, Bosnian Muslims are presented as the aggressors rather than the victims of horrendous atrocities against them.  This is both factually incorrect and unfair.  Similar cases can be made about government and community actions against Muslims in the Philippines, France, and Sweden (the latter having banned the building of minarets, while allowing the building of church spires).

The opinion piece breaches the principle of balance by failing to report that the majority of Muslims believe in the education of girls and women, and in fact Islam almost places more emphasis on the education of females than males.  This can be easily proved by reference to the Qur’an and Hadith, and by reference to many, many Muslim scholars across the world.  That the piece fails to mention this leaves the reader with the impression that the views of the shooter and the group he belongs to are an accurate representation of the Islamic faith and the beliefs of the majority of Muslims.

Breach of NZPC Principle 6
While this principle (and myself also) acknowledges that race, religion, gender, etc are legitimate areas of discussion, it requires that publications not “place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting”.  The opinion piece breaches this principle in that it gratuitously generalises the actions and beliefs of one small group in one part of a country, and treats these as representative of Muslims around the world.  This is particularly the case when the author states:

“What makes Muslims so loathe their women; what powers of ignorance are at play, what juices are squeezed in their brains to make them want to commit such atrocities?”

It is highly offensive, inaccurate and discriminatory to include me in that statement, and to imply that I loathe myself as a woman along with all other women and that I want to commit such an atrocity against other women.  In fact, if read literally, the first part of the sentence is misogynist because I am not even acknowledged as a Muslim, but only as a thing that belongs to Muslims, who are presumably all male.  It is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of gender as well as religion.

Breach of NZPC Principle 5
This principle requires that headlines “should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover”.  In the case of this piece, the headline states that we should be listening to Ms Yousafzai about “Muslim influence”, but it fails to provide any indication of her views on “Muslim influence” at all.  It mentions that she blogged about repressive attempts against her ability to gain an education, but does not show that she herself believes this to be as a result of “Muslim influence”, rather than for example the influence of an extremist group in one part of her country.  She was widely supported not only by her father, but also by the government of Pakistan, a fact that is also omitted from this piece.  Both her father and her government are also Muslims, and I am sure that she was not opposed to their influence or support.

But more than this, the piece was much less about listening to Ms Yousafzai’s views (which formed only one part of one paragraph, where the author referred to her blogging activities), and more about the views of Dr Hammond.  The space given to the views of Dr Hammond took up almost the whole of the 2 longest columns of the piece, a full 7 paragraphs, 2 of which were the longest paragraphs in the article.  Given this huge disparity in focus and content, the headline did not fairly represent the substance of the article.  Even a headline such as “Lessons to be learned from the shooting of Malala” or something similar would have been a more accurate reflection of what the piece was attempting to point out.

Effects of the piece on the Muslim Community
Muslim women continue to be one of the most marginalised groups in New Zealand.  We are hugely discriminated against when it comes to employment, and one of the reasons for this is our portrayal as victims who both “belong” to “our” men and are “loathed” by them.  More than that, Muslim men also face significant discrimination in employment, and I can give you any number of examples where men have been asked to change their name just so they might have the chance to get a job.

Muslim women live with the daily threat to our personal safety.  I cannot count the number of times I have had comments yelled out to me as I move in public places, even during such innocuous activities such shopping for groceries or taking a walk by the river.  I’m told to get back to Iraq (I’m Indian by ethnicity), that I’m the wrong person to be campaigning for MMP, that it’s 5 miles to the nearest airport, and these are only the polite incidents.  Muslim women in this country have had their headscarves pulled off their heads, have been shot at while waiting at a bus stop, have had cars driven straight at them in an effort to intimidate, have been punched while walking down the street.  I would happy to facilitate a meeting of the editorial staff with Muslim women in Hamilton, so that they can hear first-hand about our experiences, and those of our daughters and sons who are often harassed and bullied at school.

All of these incidents don’t happen in a vacuum.  They happen as a result of an environment where the denigration of Muslims is common and where misinformation and inaccurate representations of Islam in the media influence the views of people in the community.  Muslims in this city do our best to counter these measures, through activities like Islam Awareness Week and active participation in the activities of the Waikato Interfaith Council.  We try to contribute to society and to be visible and active participants in a variety of spheres.  But even so, it is extremely difficult for us to counter the effects of one piece like this which reaches a large number of people, and can counter months of effort on our part.

I understand and respect freedom of expression.  But I also understand that with freedom comes responsibility, and some of those responsibilities are outlined in principles set out by the NZPC.  All I am asking from you, as the editor, is to uphold those principles so that our community is not unfairly and inaccurately targeted.

Resolution of this Complaint
The following actions would help to resolve this complaint:
·         Withdrawal of the article from the Waikato Times website.
·         The opportunity to write a piece in response, of equal length and equal prominence in a Saturday newspaper.  I am personally willing to write such a piece, and have had many pieces published in the Waikato Times while Mr Johns was the editor.
·         A meeting with the Editor to discuss the issues that have been raised in this letter.

Muslims are a part of the community that this paper serves.  I am personally a subscriber and have been for many years.  We have had many positive interactions with staff in the past, who have often been supportive and helpful in reporting issues of importance to us.  We do wish to continue to build a positive relationship with one of the region’s leading media outlets, which has a significant impact on our lives and wellbeing.  I am therefore very hopeful that this matter can be resolved without having recourse to the NZPC.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.


Rose said...


have you received any response from the editor? the article have been removed from their website.


stargazer said...

yes, rose, indeed i've had a very positive response. all 3 of my requests have been met - refer to my latest post.