Mehdi Hasan: sanctions for ‘dishonest, demonising press coverage’ of Muslims

Misrepresentative portrayals of Muslims and other minorities will not stop unless newspapers are threatened with sanctions, Mehdi Hasan said yesterday. The columnist and political director of the Huffington Post UK said the press has proven “singularly unable or unwilling to change the discourse, the tone or the approach” towards Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers.

Hasan, who was speaking in a personal capacity at a media industry event hosted by Mindshare UK, said: “We’re not going to get change unless there is some sanction, there is some penalty. This is not just about Muslims; it is about all minorities.” He suggested advertisers would have boycotted newspapers over the publication of certain headlines about Muslims, had they been about other minorities. He said the practice was not just morally wrong, but also “dangerous and counter-productive […] because it increases alienation, […] and it also confirms the extremist narrative, the Islamist narrative that there is some kind of inevitable clash between the West and all of the Muslims living in the West, that there can never be any kind of reconciliation, that there is always going to be some kind of war between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

In addition to commercial pressure from advertisers and stricter press regulation, Hasan said a drive for greater diversity in the industry was essential to changing culture: “If you’re a Daily Express journalist writing some sort of anti-Muslim headline and the guy sitting opposite you is a Muslim it makes it much more difficult I would imagine.” Finally, Hasan called for “similar sized apologies for similar sized nonsense headlines”. He told the Guardian he is a proponent of front page apologies for incorrect front page stories.